Magic

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As a child I loved watching magicians perform on the old variety shows that were so popular on television. Some of the truly great acts were featured on the Ed Sullivan Show and now again they would pop up on other programs as well. Back then the tricks were mostly sleight of hand, with a few disappearing assistants, and sometimes the horror of sawing a box in half with a person inside. I was fascinated by the doves that would seem to come from nowhere and the card tricks that made the performers seem like mind readers. 

There was a Christmas when one of my brothers got a box of magic tricks from Santa. He practiced so well that he was able to fool us for a time, but eventually we caught on to how he was tricking us. There was also a kid from the neighborhood who worked part time as a magician at parties. He had a black suit, a top hat and a cape that his mother made for him. He was actually pretty good for someone so young. 

It seems like one has to travel to Las Vegas to see a magician these days. I haven’t noticed one on television for years. A nephew usually invites a magician to his parties and that is alway fun as well. Mostly, though, the big time magicians have expensive props and tons of smoke and mirrors that somehow make their tricks less exciting than the more simple ones.

Not long ago my husband and I watched a master class on magic featuring Penn and Teller. It was fun to see them revealing how to perform some fairly simple tricks. It took me back to the days when my brother practiced his feats on us. I found that the big secret is in having long and flexible fingers and knowing how to switch the audiences’ focus from what is really happening, talents that are not exactly my forte. 

Of course there is no real magic, at least not in the purest sense of the word. Everything is an illusion, a trick perfected by hours and hours of practice. it takes a special person the be dedicated to doing something that in a sense usually ends up being little more than a hobby. The possibility of actually becoming famous and making a career out of being a magician is undoubtedly small. 

If there really were such a thing as real magic, I would want to make war and hate disappear from the earth forever. Given that not even Jesus was able to do that I understand that such evil is here to stay, but I just do not understand how it breeds in so many hearts. Are people born that way or is it created in them through abuse and trauma? Why do humans have a violent streak? We don’t seem to start out that way as infants, but somewhere along the way it begins to creep into some souls. 

I’m taking a class on the last of the Russian Czars. Ironically I signed up for it before Christmas but it has been fascinating to learn the history of that country that very much plays into what is happening there today. Russia has always been a vast land that somehow was unable to decide if it was more European or Asian. The Czars were the head of the Christian Orthodox Church and they were believed to have been chosen by God to watch over the country. While Russia has a vast coastline along its northern border the freezing temperatures of long winters made them landlocked for many months of the year. It became important for them to command areas along the Black Sea which did not freeze in the winter. Dominating real estate there made it possible to engage in trade all year long. To the Russian people it was their right to conquer and move farther and farther west. Thus Czar Alexander I was heralded as a hero because of his military victories that made Russia an important nation in Europe. 

Sadly the land in the present day countries like Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic have been fought over for centuries. They have been claimed as pawns over and over again with Russians in particular believing that those places rightfully belong to them. Many a battle has left blood in those places and a wounded population longing to be free. 

Perhaps more than magic I long for miracles. Somehow I would like to see humans transformed into the very best versions of themselves. That often happens indeed in the people that we call heroes. Why it can’t change everyone is one of the saddest things to me and the reason that I enjoyed teaching so very much. I was able to watch young men and women becoming very good people who are contributing magnificently to the betterment of the world. Perhaps that is the magic trick that will ultimately save us all.

I often wonder what might have happened if the worst villains in the history of the world had been influenced to be good rather than despotic and bloodthirsty. I know that such things have surely happened without sleight of hand or trickery. The real wizardry in this world is in guiding our young to be fair, compassionate and kind. There is magic in making that happen.

I’m the Fortunate One

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Some questions are silly and impossible to answer. Not long ago someone wanted to know what the happiest event of my life was. Initially I ran through all of the glorious moments attempting to tabulate their value and then I realized that there is no possible way to choose just one. How do you rank getting married to a wonderful man with the births of two beautiful daughters? Who is able to place a number on earning a college degree versus landing a first job? Life is filled with many exhilarating times that bring smiles to our faces and become memories that we cherish forever afterward. 

As a child I loved Friday nights visiting with my cousins at my grandmother’s house and Sunday afternoons eating dinner with my other grandparents. Summers spent exploring the woods near my home and riding my bicycle along tree shaded streets was delightful. Vacations on my grandparent’s farm were the highlight of many years. Christmas morning when I still believed in Santa Claus was magical. 

The first time my future husband told me that he loved me made me want to dance and sing. His proposal under the lights of a Christmas tree made me giddy. Walking into our first home was the most wonderful feeling. Sharing tea with my mother-in-law and listening to her wisdom was priceless. Hearing my mother tooting her car horn when she dropped in unexpectedly still made me smile. Watching my children grow into bright and brilliant and beautiful young women filled my heart with joy. Holding my grandchildren in my arms was miraculous. Knowing that I made a difference in the lives of my students filled me with pride. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve parties at my brother’s home never failed to bring me joy. Celebrating birthdays with family and spending time with friends has always made my heart soar. Hearing a really good song or reading a wonderful book has enchanted me. Listening to the doves cooing in my backyard is a delight. Watching the children play on my street lifts my spirits. Getting a miraculous vaccine against a deadly virus brings unbounded relief. Singing in church on Sunday morning soothes my heart. 

I know that I am a fortunate woman because I am barely able to list the thousands of moments that made me happy. Some were huge and others were quite ordinary, but always They made me realize that my world has been filled with love, kindness, opportunity. Happy times far outstrip the challenges and tragedies that have come my way. Because of the glorious events, the difficult ones were easier to navigate. I always felt that there would be a bright tomorrow. Like springtime when nature awakes from its slumber, darkness in my world has always been followed by sunshine and hope. 

My mother taught me how to find great pleasure in ordinary things. A cup of my grandmother’s sugary coffee became a memory that reminds me just how far the reach of kindness stretched toward me. I have always live in a village of good people helping each other and looking out after me. Only a few times has someone purposely hurt me, and even then someone new came along to wipe my tears. 

My life has not been a cakewalk but there have always been helpers in it, wonderful souls who showed up just when I needed them most. There always seems to be that random phone call that arrives when I am feeling down or I find myself in just the right place to soothe someone who is hurting. I have been blessed with empathy and enough intelligence to learn something exciting every single day. My life is ever changing, gloriously filled with a newness that is exciting. 

I do not need artificial things to make me happy. Thoughtfulness is the greatest treasure in my mind. I’d rather spend an afternoon quietly talking with a truly good friend than partying in Las Vegas. I prefer a walk in the woods to a night on the town. My best memories are simple and very personal. 

I have had a happy life that has sustained me in the darkest times. I know that I am quite lucky in that regard. I am thankful for the quirk of fate that landed me in this place at this time. I know that there is great suffering both near and far away. Because of the happiness that I have already experienced over and over again, I have the strength to survive if my own world is beset with darkness. The people who have made me happy have also made me resilient. Perhaps that might be what makes me happiest of all.  

Aging in Grace

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I remember listening to the Beatles song When I’m Sixty-Four when I was in my early twenties and teasing my husband that I would still be fabulous at that age. Of course the very thought of being that old was unimaginable to me back then. Somehow I felt as though being old was something my grandmothers did, but certainly not me. My first brush with reality came when my lovely mother’s hair began to turn grey and she walked with hesitation because her knees were not quite working right. She gave up sewing by hand when her fingers became deformed by arthritis. and her usual energy was replaced with numerous naps during the day. Of course she was in her eighties by then, but I began to realize that I was following a pattern that she and every other human eventually must endure, the process of growing old. 

I have to humbly admit that when I finally reached the grand old age of sixty-four I was not that far off from my prediction that I would still be fabulous. My doctor declared that I was as healthy as a horse and I was still working twelve hour days at full tilt. I didn’t look so bad either, given my age. Sadly, from that magical point forward I came to resemble an old car that develops one problem after another and spends a great deal of time in the shop.

My knees were the first to go. A bit of surgery on one of them forestalled the need to replace either of them, but when rain or cold is on the horizon I walk more slowly and with a slight bend. Arthritis has found a home in all of my joints sending me to physical therapy sessions for arms, back, knees and feet. It never occurred to me that it would be my skeleton that would fail me and give me that first glimpse of being an old lady. 

I had nary a grey hair until about a year ago, but when the first one came the others followed in rapid succession. About the same time wrinkles began to show up here and there. Young people began to defer to me by opening doors and offering me seats on public transportation. They would ask me if I needed to have help carrying my groceries as though I had suddenly become an invalid. I had to remind myself that they were actually being polite and kind rather that trying to insult me. I learned to accept their offers with gratitude even though I am still perfectly fine standing in a moving train and lugging my own packages. 

I don’t recall my grandmothers ever worrying about getting older. They just went with the flow unlike my generation that seems to want to drink from the fountain of youth to prove that they can do anything a youngster is able to do. I am perhaps more guilty of such tendencies than most. I still move gingerly up and down the steps leading to my attic handling heavy boxes. I stand on high ladders to reach corners of my home. My daughters chide me and remind me that I should not still be doing such things, but I seem to have inherited by grandfather’s hardheadedness. When he was eighty-eight, he was still climbing high into the air to install light fixtures at NASA. He worked happily until a supervisor realized how old he was and sent him home for good. 

Without divulging my age I will just say that I am past the iconic age from the Beatles song. My doctor actually marvels at how well I am doing. He often tells me that I do not look or act my age. I know that I make an effort to stay active in both mind and body, but I have also witnessed some of my peers losing battles against the degeneration that is inevitable as their years on this earth accumulate. I grow weary of receiving learning that yet another dear friend has passed from this earth. I understand that my fate is entangled with the natural order of things. I can only stave off the march of time for so long before I too become more and more limited by a waning body and mind. 

For now I am somehow fortunate to still maintain a small sliver of my youthful energy. I have the strength to do most of the things I have always done, but not quite as quickly as in the past. I find great joy in each moment and appreciate things that I may have overlooked at one time. I hear to cooing of the doves that flock to my backyard each spring and it is glorious. I watch the children laughing and playing on my street and my heart bursts with optimism and hope. My youthfulness lies in my heart and my willingness to hand over the future to the hopes of dreams of the younger generation. I have every faith that they will do a remarkable job. 

To everything there is a season. My mother always told me that there comes a time to simply sit back and enjoy each moment, trusting in the wisdom of those who will follow me. My children and students and grandchildren are seizing each day in continuing the work that my generation and other generations so earnestly tried to do. The world keeps moving, and my part in it these days seems to be to simply to love and encourage optimism for the future. I stay young at heart because I look back with wisdom and gaze forward with hope. I age with grace. 

The End of My Search for Twiggy

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I used to be so thin that the cafeteria ladies gave me extra large helpings of food on those rare days when I had money to purchase lunch. I had a difficult time finding clothes that would fit without looking baggy. When I married I was five feet six and a half inches tall and weighed eighty-eight pounds soaking wet. I had to alter the wedding dress that I found to keep it from looking like it was hanging on a coat hanger. I was able to eat as much as I wanted and never gain a pound, but I often wondered if anybody thought I might have an eating disorder because I was able to keep pace with an athlete when it came to chowing down. 

Even after I had two children I only weighed one hundred ten pounds and stayed that way for years without dieting or doing a great deal of exercise. I enjoyed being able to eat to my heart’s content without worrying about calories. People whose girth slowly increased over time often told me that they were jealous that I had no need to worry about what or how much I ate. it was actually quite wonderful, and I usually gave away unstylish clothing that I wore for years before it began to look too dated to use any longer. 

When I turned forty years old all of that changed. Suddenly I only had to look at food or think about it to gain a pound here and a pound there. I began doing pilates at home and carefully portioning what I consumed. Nothing worked. it did not even seem to matter whether I worked hard to count calories and eat tons of vegetables instead of carbs and fat. I continued to grow heavier, adding weight a little bit each year. It was terrifying.

I joined a gym and worked out five to seven times a week. I walked all over my neighborhood. I tossed out anything that had salt or sugar or any other fattening ingredients. I drank water like I had just returned from a trek across the desert. Still I gained pound after pound. In addition I began to shrink, which made my situation even worse. Over time I lost my reputation as a tall girl by losing two and a half inches of height. My once long waist became short and fat popped out in my mid-section. I became obsessed with returning to my former svelte glory. 

I invested in healthy eating cookbooks and magazines. I controlled my portions and pushed deserts away. I followed all of the rules of multiple weight loss programs with very little progress. Sometimes I would actually go down five or six pounds only to regain it almost overnight. My feet and ankles would swell and on those days and I would be four pounds up. With water and a bit of elevating of my feet I would be back down overnight, and so the yo-yo went. 

I’ve been in a larger size than I care to admit for about ten years. The good news is that I seem to be in a stable place, but I would still love to lose a bit each year until I reach a more comfortable point. It does not seem too much to ask given that I really don’t over eat anymore and haven’t for at least a decade. I make sure to drink the right amount of water each day and to include green vegetables and healthy fruit in my diet. I’m not a great fan of meat and I don’t like to consume a lot of bread so by any standards I am being good.

My mother thought I worried too much about returning to my former thin self. She often urged me just to enjoy eating whatever I want as long as I don’t overdo anything. She pointed out that with my osteoporosis I I probably needed a bit of extra padding to protect my bones in case I fall. She thought I actually look better than when I was more like Twiggy. 

My mother-in-law had a theory that there is always a reason when even the most careful dieting does not result in a loss of weight. She used to theorize that my body had just decided that I needed to have more weight for some unknown reason. While I liked her encouragement, I still felt frustrated that I worked so hard for very little progress.

Of late I’m just happy that I am still rocking along with lots of energy and no real health problems. I feel fortunate that I am able to purchase good healthy food and try to not worry as much about whether or not it is leading to weight loss. I work out on my stationary bike and my treadmill and do exercises for my arms with weights and elastic bands. I go for walks whenever I can. My new goal is just to stay healthy rather than to develop a slender figure. My clothes still fit and I am a grandmother, so how I look just does not matter that much any more. 

I still have binders filled with recipes from Cooking Light and Weight Watchers. I follow a rule of moderation and staying active every single day. I won’t turn back the clock to a time when my metabolism was so fast that I did not have an ounce of fat on my body. I have wrinkles now and my hair is thinner than it used to be. My knees tell me when it is going to rain or turn cold. Once in awhile my back halts my heavy lifting and I’ve given away all of my stiletto heels. I am not so much acting my age, but deferring to its changes. I feel good and that seems to be all th at really matters. My doctor seems to think that I am going to be around for a very long time because other than a bit of arthritis nothing is wrong with me. I feel proud of myself and the efforts I make to stay as healthy as I am. If that includes a bit a fat, then so be it. My only diet is an easy one…I eat small meals and try to avoid fatty or sugary foods. As long as I continue to feel upbeat I suppose that I am on the right track. My search for the Twiggy version of me is done.

Joy Always Finds Its Way

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I saw an editorial recently entitled There Is Almost Too Much To Worry About. I suppose that throughout the history of the world there have been times when war, disease, and economic insecurity have coincided to upended the human ability to maintain a happy disposition. Sometimes I think that therein lies the old saw that “ignorance is bliss.” Whenever we begin to contemplate the dire seriousness of the issues facing the entire globe there is often an overwhelming temptation to echo the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” 

Even in the best of times each of us endure personal challenges that can crush our spirits and threaten to push our minds into submission to sorrow and even anger. When we sense a collapse of our control over our situations in life we respond in differing ways ranging from attempting to pretend that nothing is wrong to being paralyzed by depression. Often our reactions are a hybrid of the range of emotions along a continuum. All we know inside is that we are not alright even if we pretend to be. 

Like everyone I’ve had my share of difficult challenges although mine have almost always been accompanied by compassionate support from other people, often those that I least suspected would come to my aide. I’ve learned how to carve out moments of sanity during sorrowful times as a prophylactic against feeling totally defeated by life’s most insidious moments. I realized long ago that first and foremost I have to care for myself by creating snatches of happiness even in the darkest times. 

I have drawn heavily on members of my family whenever I found the world opening a chasm under my feet. Often they had no idea that I was even suffering or that they were the medicine that I used to heal my sorrow. I used to drop in on my grandfather unannounced and just sitting in his presence calmed me and gave me the resolve to stay calm and carry on. My husband is a rock of wisdom and support who always seems to know exactly what I need when times get tough. My daughters allow me to vent with honesty that I would not dare to reveal to anyone else. My brothers are my soulmates who have shared the earliest difficulties that threatened to sideline me into an abyss of darkness. My dozens of cousins remind me that there are always wonderful moments of fun and laughter that promise better days ahead. My grandchildren show me how much hope there remains for a bright future. With family my happiness always returns.

I have had the good fortune to enjoy the friendship of truly remarkable people. Many of those from my past are now gone, but new younger folk have entered my life to bring me joy. I find such goodness in the people that I know, even when we have different opinions about how the problems of life should be tackled. They remind me constantly that while there might be evil in our midst, there is far more love and kindness. We lope along together with our human imperfections supporting each other no matter the circumstances. We push each other uphill in tragic times and stroll comfortably when the path is smooth. Always, just thinking of my friends clears my mind and brings a hopeful smile to my face. 

I still find great joy in teaching. My official career ended ten years ago, but since then I have found ways to keep my hand in the business of education. I teach and tutor small groups or single individuals now. My scope of topics ranges from long division to exponential functions. Not only does educating students in the sometimes mysterious and challenging ways of mathematics help then to unravel the puzzles, but it also keeps my mind from going into spasms of worry when times are tough. Just as schooling soothed my savage thoughts after my father died, so too does teaching keep me focused on hopefulness. 

I cannot imagine a life without reading. I have a voracious appetite for a good story, a brilliant editorial, a well researched article. Reading keeps me attuned to the commonalities that we humans have shared from the very beginnings of time. Considering the words of others forces my mind to move away from my own obsessions and realize that everyone experiences ups and downs and questions about the best ways to live. There is a pattern in our history and a similarity in our desires. Reading soothes me, delights me and reminds me that I am never alone. 

I love to write. I am better at expressing who I really am in the combinations of letters that I type onto the screen of my laptop. My heart flows through the tapping of the keys and into a kind of confessional to the world that I do indeed see and hear both suffering and joy, ugliness and beauty. Writing is a purposeful release of my mulling into a form that I hope will inspire and comfort. 

There is also something deep inside me that comes from my very DNA. Just as my two grandmothers transformed the earth with their lovely gardens, so too do I till and fertilize and nurture the plants in my yard. I talk to the roses as I prune their thorny branches. I caress the blooms on my hibiscus bushes that burst forth in shade of red, yellow, and tangerine. Just dipping my hands into the soil performs miracles of healing inside my brain. Being one with the earth almost makes me giddy. 

I use these avenues of happiness as tonic for my soul. They work to keep me focused on the remarkable miracles of compassion and kindness that unfold even when things seem almost hopeless for the human race. I smile again and push forward even if my steps feel heavy. I know that there are promising tomorrows because I have seen them with family, friends, teaching, reading, writing and working in my garden. We may be dormant for awhile but new blooms always burst forth. New life tells us that we are not doomed. Joy always finds its way.