Thursday, March 28, 2024


      It’s funny, isn’t it……how so many of our life experiences have two sides to them……the good and the bad, the hopeful and the depressing. Just a week ago I was on these pages preaching about the need to be grateful. And here I am today dwelling on what might be considered the other side of that coin.

Near as I can tell my rather abrupt change of course was spawned by continuing thoughts of an earlier cancer diagnosis, and the resulting treatment…….thoughts that were quite different than the ones I addressed in my Attitude of Gratitude piece.

Life is that way, you know. Sometimes our fuzzy thoughts can lead us off on unexpected detours? I suppose that becomes all the more true when we stumble through our October years into November and beyond. Though we have learned our share of lessons along the way, by this stage of the game we are aware that some late-life questions require their own unique late-life answers.

I like to think I had the necessary answers when I was in my prime, those glory years of my fifties and sixties……a time of smooth sailing and satisfying outcomes……which probably says something about my retreating memory. 

But today, in my octogenarian November years, (at least I hope it is November.) my personal reality is changing. I keep bumping into the sad realization that I can no longer do what I once could. Truth to tell, if I let myself dwell on that dour understanding it can take me places I would rather not go. 

There are days when it is hard to shake the notion that I am on a one-way street, worn out and used up, descending a long, slippery slope to an inevitable end. In those moments it feels like the positives of my life, and I have certainly had my share of those, have come and gone. Here I am, old and alone……looking ahead from that perspective, trying to imagine what awaits me. There are times when it is hard to be hopeful.

It was with that reality in mind, still dwelling on the impact of the Big ‘C’ I mentioned last week, that I revisited my journals, turning to the pages from 2017, and what I had titled ‘Living With Dying.’ There I was drawn to a couple brief paragraphs that sent me off in a new direction.


         While I wait for the doctor to determine how effective the immunology therapy has been, I want to sort through some of the options I have in mind for the future. 

  I plan to start that process with the hopeful assumption that all of us late-life folks have more resources to work with than we sometimes realize. We have spent a lifetime gaining our own hard-won elder wisdom. The things we have learned along the way ought not be dismissed.……especially in our ‘down and out’ moments, when we feel our potential slipping away. At times like that we must not give up on ourselves.


So, when life weighs heavy on me, what sort of ‘elder wisdom’ do I have to draw on? Do I turn to the culture-shaping giants of times past……the revered dispensers of theological or/and philosophical wisdom? I know some folks do that. But that seems not to work for me.

Near as I can tell there is nothing mysterious or esoteric about my search for the truth. In fact, it appears that my operating version of ‘elder wisdom’ looks a lot like the common sense I have relied on to get this far in life……the kind we too often overlook when intimidation and uncertainty raise their ugly heads.

Chief among that common-sense inventory ought to be the realization that the less-than-primetime fellow I have become must remember to pace himself. That was true in the May and June of my life. It is all the more true in October and November. 

Today the question has become…….what level of activity amounts to an appropriate ‘November pace’? That was part of the continuing conversation that Roma and I rehashed as a couple. Now, in her absence, it is the same dialogue I have with myself. “What is a sustainable pace for the ‘me’ I have become?”

Most of our late-life peers understand the need to slow down and create an activity level in keeping with their declining capabilities. Though we may be inclined to resist those unwelcome realities, at some point we are forced to accept what we can’t change.

Though the challenges faced and the resulting accommodations will vary from person to person, a new, less-demanding level of physical activity is likely to be required. No matter how much we love our gardening, or long to take on the pesky home improvement projects that need doing, there are some things that will not be done by us. That has become a given.

What is not ‘given,’ however, are the particular activities each of us chooses to include in our ‘age-appropriate’ profile. I am not sure I understood the importance of that freedom to choose when I first addressed ‘the need to make the most of my remaining years.’ Since then I like to hope that I have learned a thing or two about that existential freedom.

For instance, I have learned that I can no longer manage everything on my ‘to-do list.’ There came a time when it was necessary to selectively reduce the demands on my shrinking future. That in turn meant it was more important than ever that I concentrate on the activities I really wanted to pursue.

Of course, there will always be those things that must be done because they cannot be set aside. But no matter what we have ‘always done,’ or what others think we ought to be doing……I believe that I have earned the right to devote more of my time to the things I find most comforting, satisfying, and fulfilling. At our age time is a precious commodity. We ought to use it wisely, without apologizing or rationalizing.


Of course, how we use that time is a very personal thing. No two answers will be the same, nor should they be. Within the constraints of health, resources, and safety each of us should make our own choices.

So what does that mean for me? How might I make the best use of my limited time? I ask your indulgence for a few moments as I offer a personal illustration or two. If my choices strike you as childish or escapism, I respectfully beg to differ. My intent is not to hide, or turn away from a less desirable destination. Instead, these are the destinations I had in mind all along.

Even in the face of health and lifestyle obstacles, which at my stage of life cannot be ignored, I claim the right to spend as much time as possible doing what really matters to me……things like helping others when I can, spending time with family and friends, and especially the care and feeding of the ‘inner me.’ 

Though I don’t have all that much in the way of worldly treasure, generally speaking I have enough. For 63 years Roma fussed over me like she did with our kids. In her absence I remain warm, well-fed, and blessed with family and health-care professionals to keep me going.

Still, there is at least one thing I would like to have more of……a larger dose of the afore-mentioned ‘elder-wisdom.’ That seems to me a worthy late-life goal……one I continue to work toward with sometimes dubious results. 

But where to look? Though my stumbling wisdom search has occasionally had me reading what I am told were the great thinkers of the ancient world, or immersing myself in learned theological doctrines……truth to tell, my intellectual/spiritual tastes seem not to run that deep. So where else might I turn for the wisdom I seek?

Surprisingly, what I found myself drawn to, and happily so, were not the libraries of ancient wisdom, but instead the esoteric and the not-so-ancient halls of YouTube.

You read that right. It is not a matter of calling up YouTube and watching whatever comes up. It is about using the “Search” feature at the top of the page to call up videos about virtually any subject, person,  place, or event you choose. It is all there.

That is where I find myself soaking up the contemporary wisdom of what I consider inspirational music, stimulating travel videos, and the helpful input of spiritual influencers like Dr. Brian Weiss, Wayne Dyer and other ‘modern-day thinkers.’ I will be the first to admit those choices will not fit everyone’s definition of ‘wisdom-seeking.’ Thankfully, each of us is free to do our own seeking.

Believe me, I am not being sarcastic. There are days when, in additional to my occasional visits with Roma and other friends, my personal seeking for what is real and worthy in life has me turning to YouTube videos, and the ‘wisdom’ they have to offer……revisiting favorite European memories and exploring destinations beyond my personal experience. Or perhaps that day’s mood will have me enjoying the melodic truth of Susan Boyle’s What a Wonderful World, Simon and Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle, or Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds. When I feel the need to dig deeper, Wayne Dyer or Dr. Weiss are there to offer their insights. Those are some of my favorites. Your’s will be different, but you can be sure they will be found there.

Hey, I understand. I may be the only octogenarian on the block who indulges himself in such diversions. Fact is, I consider those quiet moments to be important means of ‘feeding my inner self.’ 

For years my writing, both blogging and storytelling, were an important part of that effort. Today I am inclined to settle for a more passive form of seeking……a pleasantly packaged format that settles easily on my mind. You may call it entertainment. I have decided to accept the best of that seeking as Elder-Wisdom

With that, I feel a sudden urge to lose myself for a few minutes in the wisdom of Alan Jackson’s Remember When?

Friday, March 22, 2024


It’s all in our head

Hey, we’re not kids you know. We’re adults, some of us very mature adults. We’ve known about the facts of life for a long time…..long enough to know that those 'facts' come in more than one version.

How about this fact? Simply put, we live life in our head, in our mind. It was that way as experience-seeking adolescents, learning to cope with an exciting new world. And it is still that way today, after all the miles we’ve traveled.

By October and November we realize how much of our life's journey…..mental, emotional, and spiritual.…..has been played out in our mind. If that time of life describes you, you know how those mind-trips can feel…..for instance, the mornings when you wake up wondering why it is happening to you…..again.

We know about those late-life speed bumps

The particular complaints are an individual matter, different for each of us. They might be physical. Maybe your aging body is again rebelling and you know for sure that your youthful resiliency is no longer in play. Perhaps it hurts to simply move around, especially at that early morning hour.

On the other hand your problem may be mental, something as simple as struggling to remember what the coming day holds for you…..important details that were indelibly etched in your memory hours, or minutes ago, but now seem just out of reach.

Or what about the most aggravating stumbling blocks of all, the emotional rumblings that so often contribute to a restless night’s sleep, then remain to haunt our waking hours? They come in many forms, those nagging concerns we label as “worries.”

You know the routine. Perhaps we are fretting about our family. Who knew we would still be worrying about kids and grandkids at our age? Or it could be that money, or the lack of it, is a worry. And what about our health.....those concerns comes naturally at our age, don’t they? Yet no matter what creates the anxiety, most of us know that once those distressing thoughts take hold they can be hard to shake.

When the negative takes charge     

At any age, but especially in late-life, there are so many things to be anxious about, if we are so inclined. Though we may consider those concerns as warning signs, telling us that something in our life needs to change, we are rarely thankful for the ‘worry’ they create. 

No matter what the “problem de jour” may be, it is likely to include one distressing is probably negative, something we wish would go away and leave us  alone.

How do those ‘negatives’…..petty or not …..affect us? I suppose that depends. I happen to believe that in the course of a lifetime our experiences and natural inclination have combined to create a personal understanding of the world we inhabit.

From an early age we learn to view our world through that filter… welcoming and friendly, dark and threatening, or somewhere in between. No matter where we are on that positive-negative continuum, we will usually act accordingly.

Still, though we can’t simply turn off those negative worries, who wants to stay in that depressing space when there might be a better way? Why not turn away from that, to a more positive and accepting view of the world and our place it in?

Can we make way for the positive?

We can do that, you know. It’s not easy, but even in our darkest, most depressing moments we can take time to recognize the ways we have been blessed, the reasons we have to be thankful in spite of our problems. 

Still, when a truly distressing worry gets its hooks in us simply reciting an off-setting blessing, no matter how real it is, may not be enough to chase that hard reality away, at least not at first. 

The logic of the matter is simple enough. We tell ourselves that we are supposed to be blessed. Good things are meant to happen to us. That is the way things ought to be. Why then should we be especially thankful for what is ‘supposed to be’.…..especially in the face of some worrisome problem that is most certainly not ‘supposed to be’?

In spite of that fragile logic we have to carry on in the face of aging reality and concerns that are not easily dismissed. Truth is, no matter how hard it may be, seeking and living out our blessings, those positive moments that are part of every life, is a powerful way to make the most of our Becoming.

Whatever path we rely on, whether religious faith, our own meditative practice, or stubborn will power, the goal of existential thankfulness seems worth the effort.

How about a change in attitude

As you might have guessed, I have something to sell today. Perhaps like me your mother used to remind you to "Count your blessings." That seems to me another way of addressing the "existential thankfulness" I mentioned above. Hopefully that is something you can buy into.

To help make that notion more real I have given it a name. I call the mindset I want to earn for myself, and hopefully sell to you, an Attitude of Gratitude.

Of course, simply counting your blessings will not end our worries, though it can help put things in perspective. Still, I am convinced that focusing on at least some of the reasons we have to be grateful is an effective way to move beyond the negative burden of our accumulated worries. 

Truth to tell, it was one of those affirming moments that brought me here today, putting these thoughts on paper.    


We know there is more than one way to draw the positive into our lives. For instance, I happen to appreciate compliments. Who doesn’t? Everyone likes them, especially when they seem sincere. Whether about my stories and blog posts, my family, or my feeble efforts to lose weight, it feels good when folks notice, and are willing to express their opinion. 

With that, perhaps you can imagine how blessed I felt on that special morning a few years back when this brief scene played out.

Hey Good Looking

It was nearly two years after his original diagnosis when the doctor, who had just viewed my once-cancerous bladder up close and personal, set his scope aside. He was smiling as he said, “That is a good-looking bladder you have there, with no sign of trouble.” Then, lest I get too cocky, he added, “Of course, we’ll want to continue the periodic treatments to be sure it stays that way.”

Look, I’m a low-key sort of guy, not the kind to brag about my bladder, kidneys, liver, pancreas, or whatever. I'm just not that kind of fellow.

But let me tell you, when it comes to an ‘Attitude of Gratitude' moment the doctor’s apparently sincere compliment of my “good looking, cancer-free bladder” was about as positive as it gets, more than enough to push aside the low-grade anxiety that usually accompanies my six-month check ups. 

Truth is, because I live life in my head, I expected that bit of Gratitude Attitude to last a while. At that moment any reasons I had to worry about anything at all would just have to wait a while

Wednesday, March 13, 2024


  It is fair to ask what keeps me returning to these blog pages. After all, I’m the guy who sometimes tells himself that it’s time to head for the sidelines, that I’ve run out of October (and November) things to say. Yet  at least so far, it seems like every time I get in that space something like the following bit of elder wisdom has me thinking second thoughts.

 “For people like me the notion that ‘old age is a time to dial it down and play it safe’ is a cop-out. Those of us who are still able to do so should be raising a bit of hell on behalf of whatever we care about.

 Lest you think I am that bold, those are the words of Parker J. Palmer, from his book On the Brink of Everything — Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. It is a book I am pleased to recommend, and especially the implied permission it gives us late-lifers to continue with our own low-grade ‘hell raising.’

 Later, in those same pages Palmer adds, “I may be old, but I’m still a member of this community. I have a voice and things I need to say. I want to be part of the conversation.” 

With that in mind I invite you to consider the following bit of elder-babble.

 No matter what our age, our life-journey has included its share of highs and lows, twists and turns. Drawing on our own recollections we can track our personal life path in many different ways… terms of our school and work history, the things we have done and not done, how successful or unsuccessful our efforts have been, or the family we have helped create. Like a wilderness explorer blazing a trail through the forest we have left all sorts of personal markers in our wake.

 For reasons I am not sure I understand I have spent time recently focusing on one of those of those life-journey trail markers……namely, the most impactful friends I have made along the way, and how they have helped me become the person I am. 

 We humans have a habit of blaming someone else or something else for what goes wrong in our life, while at the same time we are apt to take full credit when things turn out right. Truth is, we too often we fail to recognize the contributions of our friends and allies……especially the ‘best friends’ we have made along our journey to today.

 The logic of it seems so sound to me, so rational. Everyone needs and wants friends. They help complete the person we are……filling in the blanks that are part of every life. That was true in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood. It is still true even in elderhood.

 I am one of those who believe that deep friendships are not a matter of random choice. They happen because mutual needs are being met. It is also true that over the years our needs have changed, replaced by new needs that lead us to new and different friendships. Over time those close friendships, including the ones we have left behind, can act as trail-blazing markers, helping us understand the story of our own Becoming.

 At different stages of our journey different friends have helped us learn different life lessons. In a real sense we can chart important parts of our own path to Becoming by remembering the best-friends we have won and lost along the way.  

That was the story I was dwelling on this morning, the notion that revisiting my own life-changing friendships might help me better understand the person I have become. Sadly, a closer look at my own ‘friendship’ history was enough to raise more than a little hell with that logic.

 It took me about five minutes to realize the truth of it. Perhaps that ‘friend-tracking’ idea does not actually apply to me. Instead of remembering a string of best-friends, and their contributions to the ‘me’ I am, what I came up with was largely a list of acquaintances, each of them something short of a ‘best friend,’ who have crossed my path over the years. 

 Though I certainly appreciate all those folks, when it comes to close, life-changing friendships……beyond the family circle that has always been central in my life……I was able to count just three, or perhaps four, individuals who seemed to have played the role I am describing. For some reason I expected, or perhaps ‘hoped,’ there would be more.

 As a youngster I had ‘friends,’ lots of friends. But I was an insular kid…..I stuttered, wore glasses, and was a bit of a nerd…..not the sort to be looking for, or finding, a best friend. Not until the ninth grade did my first ‘crush,’ a sweet young thing, come close to whatever ‘best-friend’ meant to me at that time. Before that could happen we had gone our separate ways.

 It was not until my sophomore year at Salem High that I created a real ‘best-friendship.’ Jay had a car, so we could get around. For two or three years we careened through high school together, giving each other permission to be a little crazy, living out adventures I would never have tried on my own. 

 And then there was the high-school girlfriend, the first girl I knew who seemed to like me just the way I was. Most of us have lived through that magical time, reveling in the attention, thankful for the affection. Until, that is, I left for college and ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ won out.

 Finally, in the exciting new world that was college, I would meet Roma, the one I was not willing to let out of my sight or mind. We met in our freshman year and spent 67 years together before she moved on to a better place. For literally decades her caring company continued to shape the person I was Becoming. Even today, nearly two years after her passing, she is still my Best Friend, the one I turn to most every day.

 So, returning to my original point, I believe that the close and meaningful friendships you and I have made in the course of our life journey, (no matter what their number or when they arrived on the scene), have most certainly played a role in our own Becoming. Though my personal list may be short, I know for sure that those folks have met that test. Beyond that, I seem to be learning there is still room for yet another ‘best friend’ on my journey to the end.

 Which brings me to today’s suggested homework assignment, one I highly recommend. The instructions are easy-peasy. Simply turn off the TV, crank the recliner back a notch or two, and close your eyes. If you haven’t dozed off by then, take the time to make a conscious return to your past. Introduce yourself to one or another of the once-close friends who have perhaps not crossed your mind in ages.

 With that old friend perched clearly in the front of your mind, ask yourself a few questions. What did you learn from your time with him or her? How might your life have been different had he or she not shown up when they did? Take the time to retrace some of your personal history, as marked by those best-friendships.

 Make that internal dialogue as real and personal as you dare. Dig as deep as your comfort zone allows. This is not about sharing your insights with anyone. It’s about you exploring you.

 Though I have no illusions of it happening, if you are so inclined I invite you to share your own bit of friend-related ‘hell raising’ with the rest of us……in an appropriate, abridged form, of course.

 What do you think? Might it be time to revisit one of the 'someones' who once played an important part in your life……to perhaps mentally thank, or scold, them for their role? Most of us recognize the ways we were shaped by parents and family. I’m not sure how many of us understand the important ways our friends and friendships have played a part. I think it’s worth the effort to see where that takes you.

 If you are so inclined, you night even consider forwarding this ‘best-friend’ bit of elder-thought to the one or ones who fit that description in your life, along with your ‘thanks’ for their contribution.