Proof of Life

I grew up in a home where stoically enduring pain was considered to be a sign of personal strength and good character. Every once in a while, a good “whipping” would be administered to give each of us the opportunity to strengthen our stoic-pain-endurance skills. While working, I was provided with many situations that allowed me to continue honing those skills. The instances more often involved emotional and mental pain, than physical pain (although there were plenty of paper cuts, head bumps and occasionally a finger impaled with a staple – no crying or cussing allowed).

Retirement (or perhaps it’s just old age) has continued to provide lots of pain, ensuring my character and the opportunities needed for continued improvement (continuous improvement was a popular theme in the work world of my past). Recently, I have come to view pain as “proof of life.” When I feel pain, I know I’m alive. Aging has provided an increasing number of painful opportunities to feel alive. In fact, I have never felt more alive. My knees, back, neck, wrists, and sometimes my big toe remind me that I am alive.

Medical professionals do their part by convincing me to endure painful procedures to decrease my pain. Next Monday, I will have painful injections in my neck in the hope of decreasing my neck pain. The good news is that I will pay a lot of money (it will be financially painful) to be hurt, but hopefully not harmed, and to FEEL alive. It reminds me of the whippings of ol’ which were not only intended to encourage decency and good character, but to toughen us up so that we would survive the hazards of adolescent and adult life. We’re all still alive, so it must have worked.

I enjoy the Hendrik Groen books which, in diary format, chronicle the life of a geriatric man in an assisted living facility in the Netherlands. There’s a lot of humor in those books. I was surprised! He and his friends organize the “Old But Not Dead Club.” The club encourages participation in fun activities DESPITE the members’ ever-increasing aches, pains and incontinence. Those Dutch really know how to have fun, even when it hurts. It makes them feel alive.

In retirement, I enjoy crocheting, gardening and walking. Doing these activities, for me, is painful and fun. I should take up the guitar – I bet that would hurt. Life, albeit painful, is good.

Proof of life (that wrist is a pain)

Hippity Skippity

My work history included almost every position known to man that included the word “assistant” in the job title: office assistant, program assistant, assistant clerk treasurer, medical assistant, educational assistant, library assistant, legal assistant. Those are the ones that come to mind. The mystery with some of those was, who was I assisting? Typically, I was solely responsible for the success of the program I was employed to assist.

As the library assistant in a small-town middle school I assisted students, faculty, administration and janitorial staff. It could be messy work, but it was wonderfully rewarding (just not financially). The children attending the school ranged in age from 12 – 15. Parents of those children ranged from poor to affluent and law-abiding to fugitives from justice. Our family lived in the district and fell in the lower portion of the standard-of-living scale.

The district was rural and encompassed a large geographical area with limited law enforcement presence. Many families’ only source of income was less than legal, or flat-out criminal, which resulted in one of my self-proclaimed library rules: If your library book was destroyed when your parents’ meth lab exploded, you were not required to reimburse the library (I would cover the cost). Parents of library patrons ranged from the most fundamentalist of Christians (“You should not have books like The Giver in your collection”) to parents who would show-up in t-shirts displaying the image of pigs humping with the caption “Makin’ bacon.”

Children’s character had little to do with their parent’s income level; there were well-behaved, and badly-behaved children from all levels. I suspected that this was the result of what was regarded as acceptable and unacceptable in individual homes. For instance, it might be unacceptable to take the Lord’s name in vain, but perfectly acceptable to bully and disparage anyone who didn’t share your beliefs. It might be acceptable to beat-up and bully your peers, because you were beat and bullied at home.

For me, a source of great joy, was when an adolescent would allow their child to shine through the oily self-conscious veneer of adolescence. It frequently emerged as a moment of hippity-skippity movement followed by extreme embarrassment. Their inner child would erupt like a soon to-be inflamed blemish on their face. For just one moment, the child within rose to the surface and emerged to be seen. It was a happy moment, for the adolescent, and for me watching. I worried that if the young people held that part of themselves submerged below the surface for too long the joy that was a child would drown and die. I was surprised that this was as likely to happen in the presence of strict fundamentalism as it was in an atmosphere of lawlessness and drug abuse.

I held that position in the last half of the nineties. The children I worked with are now in their mid to late thirties. I hope they still find opportunities to let their child shine through. I have held many positions since then (some, but not all, with the word “assistant” in the title) and am now retired. It’s time to let my child shine through (probably it will be best to do so when no one is looking). I’m going to embrace spontaneity and have fun when the opportunity arises (like going to a painting class when friend Ronnie calls just one hour before the class is to start to offer me her spot). I’m going to sing loudly to the radio when no one else is in the car (I will retain more friends if I limit this activity to times when I’m alone). I’m going to skip. It’s a great calf exercise.

The child in me painted this.

I Get By…

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I was all ready to spend the day feeling sorry for myself; this being the first Valentine’s Day since my spouse of 42 years, Phil, passed away, but I can’t do it. I have way too many friends to ever feel sorry for myself. I’m not sure how this happened. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a shy, awkward, self-conscious child which did not make me a friend magnet, but beginning in high school, I began collecting priceless friends, who remain my friends to this (Valentine’s) Day.

Beginning with my best (she is not only my best friend, she is the gold-standard best of the best) friend Shari, to my newest friends who accompanied me to the Escape Room yesterday, my friends are my most valuable treasure. So on this holiday that celebrates love, I do not feel left out; I feel immersed.

Love is my very favorite thing. I love my children and grandchildren. I love my friends. I love my cat. I love my neighbors. I love nature and the out-of-doors. I love learning. I love British television. I love my 2001 Toyota Camry. Are you starting to see a pattern here? Love is one of those great things, that the more you give, the more you get.

When I was working, I was asked to put together a presentation on empathy. We were experiencing some workplace discontent (hard to believe) and as a “transformational coach” I was called upon to try to help (that they would call on me for help, lends credence to how desperate the situation was). Thinking back, I may have offered to help. Anyway, in the spirit of “let’s all just get along” I got to work on a presentation. I decided that “putting yourself in another’s shoes” was very similar to “treating other people the way you want to be treated” so this theme was heavily relied upon in the presentation. The organization I worked with was continually stressing their reliance on numbers and data so I ended my presentation with ∞ > 1. My mathematical conclusion was that if each of us only cares for ourself, we each will have only one person caring for us. If we each care for every other person we come into contact with, we’re creating a current of caring enabling the possibility of an infinite number of persons caring for each other. My theory was that this was good because ∞ > 1. At the end of the presentation, many individuals in the room had blank expressions on their faces, so I passed around cookies and everyone was happy.

Cookies, cards and flowers, it must be Valentine’s Day.

Cookies brings me back to Valentine’s Day (I always give my children’s families plates of homemade cookies for Valentine’s Day). I not only get by, I thrive, with the love of my family, cat, and friends: Shari and sisters, Terry, Jeri, Andrea, JJ, Liz, Mela, Ronnie, Eileen, Carolyn, Paula, Linda, and so many more (some I haven’t even met yet). Thank you and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Escape Room Friends!

Super Powers

My grandson, Nathan, told me that their cat, May-May, is able to coax cat treats from him by using her “cat-cuteness powers.” My cat, Cinnamon, has superior people-training powers. She has trained me to throw her mousy toys at specific times everyday, and for a duration she determines. She, too, invokes her “cat-cuteness powers” in her human behavior manipulation practices. Super-powers seem to be much more available to animals than to humans.

While working, I wished I had super powers. I wished I could cast a magic net of reason that would allow tasks to be completed with the cooperation of all required participants. Alas, it was never to be. I wished that while in meetings, I could gaze upon specific individuals with silencing-sight stares allowing others input that would prepare the waters of discussion for the casting of my magic net of reason. Sadly, my magic net of reason rotted in a shed in the recesses of the forest of my imagination. Meetings dragged on with unintelligible, irrelevant babble obliterating any chance of the implementation of meaningful action. So I retired.

In retirement, I have continued to wish for super powers. While my husband was ill, I wished for the power to grant sight and insight to the seemingly blind medical professionals who cared for him. I realized that their sight had been lost to the pressures of too many patients, and too much bureaucracy . The pressure effectively extruded their problem-solving, diagnosing and deductive capabilities leaving only time for reliance on prescriptive care guidelines that failed to allow for the rare and unusual. So he died.

Since his death, I have traveled the widow’s path, that can be scary, and has, again, left me craving super powers. I wish for laser vision to obliterate con men and unethical repair people from the planet. Okay, this one might be too violent for someone who considers herself a pacifist. Let me re-evaluate my super-power desire. Hmmm, maybe I will wish for the power to immerse individuals in a pool of empathy. I would be able to hold down really bad people just a little longer (not water-boarding duration, but close) than those who are not as evilly exploitative. Since lack of empathy is a characteristic of psychopaths, I could use my empathy-pool-immersion power to improve the complexion of society and decrease the number of serial killings. I live in a desert where pools of water are few and far between, so I’m going to revise my wish and wish for empathy-laser vision. I would gaze upon evil politicians with my empathy-laser vision recasting them as true representatives of their constituents. I would gaze upon the repairman sent to my home to repair my garage door opener who would then provide me with a fair estimate. It would result in an improvement to the current state of affairs, both nationally and personally. I don’t think I could use it on telemarketers, because the laser vision might destroy my phone, and those things are expensive. Shoot, I’m not sure I could use it on politicians either, because my current exposure to politicians is via the television. While televisions are much less expensive than cellphones, it could get very messy and labor intensive having to clean up laser-vision-obliterated televisions. As of today, my televisions are safe because I’m super-powerless.

The days of my teen-age-girl-cuteness powers, that allowed me to talk my way out of traffic tickets are long past. I’m happy that cat-cuteness powers are not age-related and subject to age-discrimination like people-cuteness super powers. I’m happy for cats. Cats’ lives are good. I should stop feeling sorry for myself and realize that my life is good too. The current political climate remains in need of super-power repair (as does my garage door opener).

The barrette had magic traffic-citation-deflecting powers that, sadly, diminished as I aged.