Posts Tagged ‘Health’

Waving the White Flag

May 23, 2012 30 comments
Age like a fine wine

Age like a fine wine (Photo credit: derekGavey)

Strike at the heart of the beast! Show no mercy!

Why do people feel compelled to do battle with all things related to aging? Hair gets colored, as if having gray hair is shameful. Young, nubile women begin getting Botox before the age of 30; begin using anti-wrinkle creams in their 20’s.

Have we come to despise these signs of having lived past our teen years?

My hair gleams with gray sprinkled throughout from years lived and loved.  Hard work went into the making of those signature hairs. Why should shame be associated with them?

Small lines have taken up residence around my mouth. Are they caused by laughing too much? If so, my favorite past-time will continue to occupy me. Laugh lines are far better in my estimation than facial stress fractures.

The reasoning behind this abhorrence of aging escapes me. My entire experience here on Planet Earth was lived at the same moment—the one in which I am aware. Age has rarely meant anything to me.

At age twelve, people treated me as 19-20. When nineteen came along, people assumed I was in my mid-20’s. By the time my 30’s arrived, most of my friends were in their early 20’s. Even now, I have few real friends my own age. I know plenty of people in their 50’s and 60’s, but those whom I call true friends are of all ages, from the very young to those in their late seventies and older.

It’s always been my contention that age is only a marker for statistical purpose. The body may have tell-tale signs of wear and tear. But the me operating this body has no age, except the one I inside my head.

The question which needs to be posed to a person is: If you’re so unhappy to reach your current age that you need to reconstruct your body to hide your experience, is reconstruction likely to erase your unhappiness?

Does one’s happiness depend on the physical representation of the person inside? After all, our bodies are only the vessels, which carry us around on this planet. Is our preoccupation with conforming to culture’s definition of beauty the only path to self-satisfaction and acceptance? Must we all be life-sized, unrealistic Barbie’s and Ken’s in order to be accepted as vital, beautiful, and worthwhile? If so, aren’t we all waving a white flag; surrendering our individuality and uniqueness in favor of a cultural impossibility?

Writers deal with this issue each time they develop a character, put together narrative description, or poetry. We devote much time and page space to beauty in one form or another. Have you ever wondered just how deeply our brains’ hard-wiring goes, if all cultures, races, and ages consider this one aspect of life as this important?

What do you think about our demand for physical perfection and beauty? I’m looking for opinions on this topic. Are we the total of our body parts, or do we have an innate value and beauty than has nothing to do with our outer shells?

You tell me. Leave a comment. Take a stand.

A bientot,



Whether You Need It Now or Not

March 11, 2012 9 comments


Many years ago, while at university, one of my professors required that his students write their own obituary. He told us that by writing our obits, we would begin to truly appreciate ourselves and others as individual human beings with innate worth and lasting value. He also said that until we stood back and looked at ourselves as a stranger would see us, we could never really know who we are.

Like most college students, we went along with the program as outlined and did as we’d been instructed. The lesson had interesting consequences for me along the way. I doubt any of us ever forgot what we learned from it.

Trying to look at your image in the mirror, as a stranger would, isn’t an easy task. Self-perception is always influenced by experience and what others have told you of their observations and expectations for you. The physical aspects that have always seemed flawed, or perfect, or questionable are your first impressions.

When you go past the physical to past experience, deeds, and failures with their requisite successes, you dwell on those bits that were less than perfect, less than desirable. Accepting the flawed episodes from a past that can’t be changed is a timely process. Without that acceptance, the successes ring as hollow and lifeless. Small indiscretions overpower small kindnesses. Praise is mitigated by remembered slights. And the cycle continues.

The act of writing one’s personal obituary allows for reflection on the overall picture of a person’s life—yours. The fact is that an obituary is merely a personal profile. It places the person within the framework of their own history.

Family and friends come to the foreground, along with major accomplishments within the person’s life. It’s not concerned with failures, but with successes, relationships, and contributions. It concentrates on those areas of one’s life that reflect the spirit and philosophy of the person.

The amount of detail held within the paragraphs that encompass a person’s life story depends on the purpose of the writer. Make no mistake; the obituary is a telling of a person’s profile or life story in miniature. It can celebrate that life, magnify it, examine it, whatever the writer wishes to convey. It can also bring to light the otherwise unknown deeds of a person, secrets held by those who knew her best.

By the time I finished my assignment, I’d reaffirmed several key points about myself. I’d come away with an acknowledgement of those relationships which mattered the most to me and knew why they did so. My failures up to that point had been assessed and laid to rest. I’d owned all of them, some for the first time, and they could no longer haunt me.

Successes, some of them never properly acknowledged, came to the foreground. I’d never before thought of those times I’d been in a rescue situation as successes. My actions had been necessary to keep another from greater harm. I’d not categorized them as anything other than being in the right place at the right time.

The exercise became a kind of “It’s a Wonderful Life” scenario. When approached that way, failures meant nothing, had no value. Only successes counted, and few, if any, of those for me had anything to do with money or personal gain.

I’ll always thank that professor for that assignment. The lesson stuck. I’ve decided, in lieu of an annual goals listing, I’ll write a new obit each January as an evaluation of the previous year. I’ll think of it as a laying to rest of the past and a celebration of my life during that time.

I challenge each reader to take on the task of writing their personal obituary, not as something morbid and unwholesome, but as a personal profile and life story in miniature. I can’t guarantee that you’ll come away with the same type of positive reaction I did. I can only tell you that you won’t look at your life the same afterwards.

Let me know how your experience of this exercise goes. I’m interested to know if you found it as illuminating and cleansing as I did.

A Lady of Endurance, Hospitality, and Appreciation

February 23, 2012 3 comments

Taking a look at each of my father’s sisters as a subject has been an interesting process. I began yesterday with the middle sister. Today I’ll look at the eldest sister, taking those memories of my own, as faulty as those might be.

First of three beautiful daughters, and small of physical stature, her birth brought much joy to her parents in the middle of the roaring 20’s. Soulful eyes gazed out onto the world, looking for her place in it. Like all children, she had to wait for the answers to her future.

My aunt helped her parents work the small farm that surrounded them. The culture and the times demanded that all hands keep busy and help tend to the family crops, chores, and everyone’s general welfare. By the time she was ready to enter adulthood, fear and pain would be a constant companion.

This was the woman who, many years later, during my teen years, listened to her daughter and me talk into the night, as we giggled about secrets in the next bedroom. Long evenings passed while the peacocks called from their sentry stations around the horse farm. Summer’s warm, lazy breezes at night fluttered bedroom curtains as we slept in the house she cared for.

And this was the woman who’d lived through what would crush many others.

When my aunt was a teen, polio still crippled individuals and families’ spirits. It was said that she became ill with something that acted suspiciously like that disease. Recovery was long and halting.

Nevertheless, her salvation arrived on the heels of fear and pain. The love of her life came to champion her, to take her in his arms and carry her through life. What could she do but allow this strong, gentle suitor to take her hand, as protector and husband?

With his help and love, she overcame the effects of her illness. It wasn’t easy, but she did it. They started their family and lived as everyone else did on a farm.

Years later, when her son and daughter were in their early teens, a shocking and terrifying event changed the course of her days. Tending the family vegetable garden was challenging in the southern summer heat, yet picking veggies for the dinner table wasn’t considered debilitating.

Within that space between heartbeats terror struck. With the suddenness of an adder’s bite, her vision disappeared in one eye. Her eyes had never been good, but now she was challenged as never before.

When she finally got to the eye doctor, the verdict wasn’t good. The retina was badly torn. She had to face the probability of never regaining her sight in that eye and the other retina wasn’t too stable, either. The doctor’s diagnosis was heart-wrenching.

Instead of flailing around in a soup of depression and self-flagellation, lamenting forever what she’d lost and how unfair life was, she fought to regain as much independence as possible. She learned Braille, retrained herself so that she could continue doing all of those tasks she’d done before the accident. Her family helped as much as possible, which proved sorely needed.

Not long after her trial by blindness began and she’d made significant progress, my uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died a few weeks later, leaving her without her champion of so many years.

She went without escort to her daughter’s wedding. She sat in church each week without the tall, quiet man who’d carried her as a bride. She endured.

For all these long years, she’s kept a home together for herself and her son, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a specialist with thoroughbreds. She never lost her sense of humor, though it was tested many times. Also, her culinary skills could rival many a restaurant.

The years have moved forward, unfolding the future and my aunt’s life. Elderly now, she continues to fight the good fight. Strong faith has lifted her up and sustained her throughout life’s trials.

All I’ve ever needed as an example to help me overcome adversity were the memories I hold of this lady of endurance, hospitality, and appreciation.

Illusory Happiness

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment


It’s been said that, “When you look at your life, the greatest happiness [es] are family happiness [es].” One of the questions, for me, is whether that statement is true or not.

I’ve had many happy moments in my life with and without family members in attendance. I tend to focus on how one quantifies happiness.

Does extreme happiness always have to be accompanied by tears, for instance? Or, is such a deep emotion as true happiness so overpowering that expression of any kind is beyond the ability of the one experiencing it?

What about a lack of happiness? I’ve seen occasions when great sorrow, not happiness, was what took over when family arrived. Where does a person draw the line of family involvement in one’s personal happiness?

Here’s another example of relevant questions. How many degrees of happiness does a person feel and does everyone feel the same degrees of that emotion and label them the same way? I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer to either of these questions simply because each person’s emotional thermometer registers feelings differently based on personal experience.

When you realize how genuinely moved a person is to meet you, does that evoke great happiness, sweet satisfaction, or deep humility coupled with gratitude. If humility, does that constitute a portion of happiness? If you feel satisfaction only, does that mean that conceit has crept into your thermometer?

You see how complicated emotional definitions and signals are? What if you feel nothing at all except seeming boredom when someone exhibits excitement at shaking your hand and talking with you face-to-face? After all, this could be a cousin that you’ve never met before.

Does your lack of emotion mean that you really don’t want to know any more family, that you’re too important to worry about those on the fringe of the family, or that you’re just a jerk?

Or, could it mean, as it does with me, that caution and trust issues rule your actions and responses during first meetings?

Circumstances dictate our responses to events in our lives. The exact experience also contributes to those responses, as well as the circumstances immediately preceding an event.

For instance, many years ago, when I was teaching in an elementary school, I’d gone outside during recess. I needed some quiet time without children’s voices in my ears or designs on my next thought. I spent my ten minutes breathing in the scent of blooming forsythia and tulips in nearby private yards, listening to birds announcing their romantic intentions, and generally decompressing. The afternoon sun warmed my face and hands, clean air wafted past my nose, and a sense of rightness filled me.

On my way back to the classroom, a curious sensation flooded my body. I stopped walking. I closed my eyes and felt my whole body fill with blinding light from the inside. I could see it, behind my eyelids, flooding through me. Such a wave of pure joy washed over me that there were no words, no other sensations, no sound. All else in the world fell away, leaving me held within this personal lightshow.

It ended, and I nearly cried. I felt in that instant the most amazing happiness. I’ve yearned for another taste of it ever since. I wait for the day I can feel that sensation, that joy, again. Where it came from, or why it came, I have no idea. I don’t care.

I only know that that one blazing event taught me more about joy than a lifetime of other experiences. Nothing can compare to it. I wish everyone could have their own instant of pure joy that they can aspire to feel it again.



Grandpa As Hero

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

When I was five years old, I got to spend part of my summer with my grandparents on their farm. I loved being on the farm. There were always so many things to see and learn. Besides, I got to do things there that I didn’t get to do at home.

I suppose I made as much of a nuisance of myself as most little kids do, constantly asking: why? whatcha doin’? how does that happen? can I help next time? See, not much different. I was a questioner even then.

That was the summer that took my life out of focus for much of my life. That was the summer that I nearly lost an eye, and when I learned just how much of a hero my grandpa could be.

I followed grandpa around like any pet. That day–I can’t remember whether it was early morning or late afternoon—I went to the barn, which was at least a football field length away from the house, to watch Grandpa milk the cows. He was in a stall with a cow when I got there, and the stall gate was closed and secured.

I climbed the gate to release the wire latch. Hanging there, one arm over the top, feet braced on a cross board below; I discovered what “impaled” meant. I didn’t know the word, but I’d learned the definition.

A rusty wire, hanging loose, ran into my left eye socket and around the eyeball itself to stop short in that position. I screamed, in pain and terror.

I didn’t dare move. Instinctively, I knew no remain as still as possible.

Grandpa jumped up to see what had happened. He knew I was at the stall gate, but hadn’t seen what happened.

When he began to open the gate, I screamed for him not to. The jostling wasn’t good for me. It took him a moment to realize what had happened. My saving grace was that he didn’t panic.

Instead, he climbed over the other open stall wall, found a pair of wire cutters and clipped the wire from the gate that I clung to with limpid quality strength. He coaxed me down into his arms and told me to hang on to him. That’s when he began running back to the house.

During his run, one of the smoothest trips I’ll ever remember, he gently worked that wire from around my eye; no small feat, if you ask me.

You have to understand that this was back during the early 50’s. Getting an ambulance out to the hinterlands was nigh on to impossible. Grandpa drove me to the nearest hospital. One of my aunts laid me across her lap in the front seat of Grandpa’s old coupe and kept a cold washcloth over my eyes.

Tears? You betcha, there were tears. Fear and pain made sure of that. All I wanted was my folks and I just knew that I’d never see them again. And I meant that in several ways.

I can still envision that hospital exam room. It was kept dark. The only light I recall came from the reflector band on the doctor’s forehead. There could have been others, but that was the one I remember. Grandpa and my aunt were there with me.

There is a gap at that point in the memory. How Grandpa got hold of my parents, I still don’t know. We had no telephone back then.

But, as if my magic, my folks found me in that hospital room hours later. I was an emotional wreck by then.

My eyes had been covered to protect them from infection and the light. The left eye had been lavaged several times to keep infection down. I’d been given a tetanus shot. They were able to take me home.

What we learned was that my vision was so poor before the accident that the doctors had trouble understanding how I hadn’t had a major injury before this one. From what they could tell, I was almost blind then. They felt that they might have caught the severity before it became untreatable with corrective lens.

Regardless of reasons or prognosis, the truth was that my grandpa was my hero. He saved me from certain blindness. He saved me from more pain. He was there to carry me to safety.

It’s too bad that he’s also the same grandpa who received the kick in the shin because he admitted that he didn’t know where my parents were or when they’d return. That’s no way to treat a hero.

A Few of Grandma’s Mysteries

February 7, 2012 2 comments

My maternal grandmother always seemed old to me. I have no memories of how she looked before I was old enough to go to school, and she died when I was twelve.

I do remember a few things; conversations overheard, and the like. She had several philosophies that would shock many reading about them today. I grew up in that era of the “children should be seen and not heard” child-rearing techniques.

In fairness I must say that I learned a lot about many things by having to keep silent.

For instance, I learned that that tiny woman of barely four feet ten, was strong, and not just physically. There was one story that Mom told about the day that Grandma was bitten by the snake. Mom figured that it was a copperhead or cottonmouth since there had been no sounding rattles.

This event happened back in the late 30’s or early 40’s when a person had to be on death’s threshold before they’d go to a doctor. The way I understood the story, Grandma waited until she got sick and then agreed to go to seek help. That she did this didn’t surprise me at the time. That she followed doctor’s orders was what kept my attention and respect.

The doctor’s prescription was for her to take a drop of arsenic each day to counteract the snakebite venom. Antivenin hadn’t made its appearance yet. So there she was, still sick from snakebite and dropping arsenic each day to compensate. At the time I first heard the story. I was old enough to know that arsenic was poisonous; too young to wrap my head around the belief that such a prescription would actually work.

Grandma would have laughed if she’d heard my questions about it. The snakebite wasn’t nearly as deadly as Malaria, which she and both daughters contracted during the war. They all landed in the hospital for treatment. It was the first time that Grandma had ever been in the hospital for any reason, as far as I know.

She was the one who would wait for the menfolk to exit the house during visits on Sunday so that she and the other females could imbibe in a tiny snifter of her homemade elderberry wine. I think I was about ten when she handed me a small snifter of my own. I was stunned the first time she did it. Alcohol was verboten in our house, but Mom didn’t blink an eye when snifters and decanter came down from the sideboard.

When I was eleven, not long before my twelfth birthday, she and Grandfather were visiting on a Sunday afternoon.  People did that back then. I was outside playing with my brother when I stepped on a honeybee. Needless to say, I yelped, hopped, and generally acted like a girl.

I got inside the house and reported the incident to Mom. With my Dad deathly allergic to bees, Mom always watched our reactions very carefully, though I didn’t realize that was the reason until adulthood. (I began my senior moments a few decades too early, you understand.)

Grandma took my hand and my brother’s hand and led us outside. She had us sit on the well platform beside her.

I can close my eyes and still feel her hands cradling my swollen foot that throbbed as if it’d been stomped on. Her eyes were closed, even as mine dripped tears of pain and uncertainty. Brother was unusually silent as he watched the procedure.

Quiet words flowed from her, repeating gospel verses such as “Wherever two or more are gathered in His name…” and moving on to more prayer-like sentences. I do remember hearing absolute silence all around us. That’s hard to achieve on a bright summer day in the country.

As she made her prayer, Grandma gently stroked my foot, first the swollen red venom site, along the ball and on to the toes, and back along the top to the ankle and down the heel. Her fingers, which moved to the equivalent of a whisper of movement, traced each part of my foot with the transience of a feather on the breeze.

When she finished her ministrations and her prayer, Brother and I said “Amen” and waited.

This tiny lady, with her Mrs. Beasley glasses and hair pulled away from her pudgy cheeks, turned to me and said, “From this day on, you will never again be stung by a bee. If you should step on one, it must defend itself, but you will not swell or have pain.”

Those intense eyes of hers held mine until I nodded my understanding. At that moment outside sound flooded back in, the world righted itself, and we returned to the house.

My foot? All swelling and pain had disappeared while we sat at the well. To this day, over 50 years later, I have never been stung by another bee. In fact, bees and wasps will walk all over me and never bother to sting.

How did she do it? I can only conclude that she asked the Creator for a favor and had it granted. That’s enough for me to understand.