The Beat Goes On

lifecycles-butterfly

I have always found the story and the music in The Lion King to be profound, particularly the crowd favorite The Circle of Life. Indeed without ever realizing it each generation endures similar challenges, common growing pains, battles to deal with the perceived problems of the era. There has always been a tension between the old guard and the new, a feeling that somehow the two worlds are incapable of fully understanding one another.

I’m a bonafide Boomer, okay? I was a free range kid on steroids like most of my friends. We went outside early each day and played wherever we chose until dark. I remember Halloween nights when my brothers and I would trick or treat until well after ten because our Catholic school gave us a holiday on November first. We lived on our bicycles and spent entire days roaming the nearby woods along the bayou with our friends. We stepped on nails and broken glass with our bare feet that were usually caked with dirt and dust.

Life seemed uncomplicated back then but it really wasn’t. We all knew someone who had become crippled from polio. Perhaps it was one of our teachers or a fellow student or even a neighborhood kid who mostly lived in an iron lung. Going under our desks for air raid drills became so routine that we appeared to have forgotten the underlying worry that there might one day be a nuclear attack on our country. We watched science fiction movies that portrayed giant bugs and creatures mutilated and transformed by nuclear fallout and read a satirical magazine with a hero named Alfred whose mantra was, “What, me worry?”

We lived in fairly ordinary little houses that were usually under twelve hundred square feet. We shared a single bathroom with our parents and siblings, requiring strict rules about using up all of the hot water. There was normally one phone for the entire household whose central location made it almost impossible to have a private conversation of any kind. One television was also the general rule and a parent determined when it might be turned on and what programs would be watched. Things like sodas and sweets were delicacies that we did not often see. If we had siblings of the same sex we learned how to share a bedroom and a tiny closet with them. Vacations were a luxury and those who actually flew somewhere on a plane were the exception rather than the rule.

Our teenage years were marked with the usual angst of overcoming the challenges of puberty but our worries about the future became increasingly more complex. There were people in our midst fighting for rights that should have been theirs from the beginning of this nation. We were becoming more and more embroiled in a war that we did not understand but which used our peers to do the fighting either willingly or unwillingly. We watched the violence that seemed to be growing all around us while hearings chants of “Never trust anyone over thirty.” The times seemed so tumultuous and the changes were coming too slowly to keep up with our impatience.

By our college years we witnessed friends being drafted into the military and sometimes being shipped to that war that grew like a virus. We attended the funerals of friends who had been cut down in the flower of their youth. Some of us began to feel that our elders had somehow lost touch with the new realities of the world. We scurried to rallies to hear a charismatic soul named Eugene McCarthy who pledged to end the insanity only to become dispirited when he did not make it to the presidential nomination of his party. We watched the “silent majority” of our elders elect Richard Nixon, a man who seemed clueless about our own fears.

Along the way we became members of the over thirty generation. We had families of our own that required our attention. We set to work building our lives and in what seemed like a blink we were middle aged and our own children were coming of age as Generation X, a group seemingly without a cause that was in reality more like us than anyone ever realized.

Now we are the seniors of society, sometimes caught between the generation of the healthiest of our parents and our middle aged children. Our grandchildren, the millennials, are experiencing the same sorts of fears and disillusionments that once ruled our own thinking. They are as anxious for solutions as we once were. We have had the time to understand that we were no more unique than they are. We have finally found the wisdom to view those old photos of our parents, the so called “greatest generation” and see that like us they were once filled with visions of a grander world. That spirit is in our human DNA. It is something that we might trace back to the beginnings of time. Those seasons mentioned in the Bible are real, just as the circle of life is infinite. 

We push and we pull and we judge one generation after the next when the truth is that each group attempts to do its best. We make mistakes and manage victories. The world spins on its axis and revolves relentlessly around the sun. As nature does its thing we humans do ours until it becomes time for the next generation to try its own ideas. We grapple with our elders and lecture our youth during a lifetime, so often forgetting the simplicity of the best plan of all, to love, listen, laugh and respect one another. The beat goes on.

A Fine Mess

closetI have a closet under my stairs that my husband lovingly calls “the velociraptor closet.” He insists that going inside is a dangerous adventure because the area is most assuredly filled with wild beasts that may attack at any moment. He always wishes me well whenever I daringly go into the farthest reaches of the area, assuring me that he will send for help if I don’t return in a timely fashion. The joke of course is based on the messiness of all that I have crammed inside for storage. It is quite a challenge to maneuver along the passageway without sustaining a bump on the head or a bruised shin.

I’m known as a neatness freak by all of my friends and family but when it comes to closets I fail in organizational skills. I tend to use those hidden spaces as a means of holding all of the things that I rarely use but may or may not need in the future. The only rhyme and reason that I follow in storing junk is based on where each the items actually fit and the seasons in which I am apt to want them. I have an entire section of a closet just for Christmas wrapping paper, tablecloths, and serving pieces. Several square feet of my home’s real estate holds things that I only use for one month each year.

Back in the day all of us had cameras that used film that we had to get developed and converted into photos that came inside little paper envelopes. We never knew exactly what we would get from our efforts of recording events. Sometimes the resulting pictures were hilariously awful but we had to pay for them anyway. Most of the time I never bothered to throw away the defective images. I just kept them inside those little envelopes with all of the others. Over time I accumulated boxes and boxes of photos from our celebrations, milestones and trips. After my mother and mother-in-law died I inherited their boxes as well. Now I have an entire upstairs closet as well as a cedar chest dedicated to those old pictures. Much like my mother-in-law I keep promising to label and organize what I have so that future generations will have some idea of their meaning, but I never quite get around to completing the task. I suppose that one day someone will have to decide whether to toss the lot or make an attempt at finally achieving what Granny and I never did.

I used to marvel that my maternal grandmother never gave anything away and now I find myself hanging on to so much more than I really need. I’ve got items that I haven’t used in years but for some reason keep with the crazy idea that I may actually one day find a reason for hoarding. I remind myself of a notion that a friend once mentioned noting that the messy folks who never throw anything away end up with the prize possessions of the Antiques Roadshow. I keep convincing myself that valueless items may one day be worth a fortune if I just hold onto them long enough. I suppose that I am more sentimental than I should be. I imagine my children and grandchildren cursing me one day as they attempt to cull through all of the things that I have accumulated.

I’ve tried paring down the number of books that I have but somehow I just can’t part with them even though they fill spaces all over the house and even under the beds. I find myself hanging onto worn linens by noting that they are fabulous for covering my plants during the one or two freezes that occur each winter. I have boxes of rags just waiting for cleaning projects and an array of old paint that I use to touch up knicks once in a blue moon.

I haven’t changed clothing sizes in several years so I have outfits that date back twenty years. I’ve tried making a rule that if I bring in something new I must rid myself of something old but I convince myself that I need to wait just a while longer in case an item comes back into vogue. I even have a stack of clothing that I use when I paint or use bleach. It may sit in the corner for years but eventually I pull it out and feel rather proud of my foresight.

As the year progresses I begin setting aside gifts that I have purchased for friends and family. It’s a habit that I learned from my mother but I’m not as organized as she was. When she died we found items labeled with the names of the recipients. I just put my purchases alongside the Christmas section of the closet without mention of who I want to have them. Sometimes I forget that I even bought them and they languish in limbo for years.

I’ve been getting messages from Medicare and the CDC indicating that it might be best for someone in my age group to stay around the house a bit more until the threat of the coronavirus subsides. Maybe this is finally the time to tackle the messes that lurk inside my closest and under my beds. In all honesty I’d have to wrap Christmas packages for hundreds of people to finally use all of the paper that I have. I’m thinking that if I do nothing more than toss the photographs of sub par quality I will have made a big dent in the volume. I need to tame the velociraptor closet and admit to myself that I’m not going to read the vast majority of my books ever again. Do I really believe that I or someone else might actually use those dvds?

I suppose it’s time for a change and maybe I’ll get around to making it or maybe not. It’s a fine mess that I have. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Somebody Needs You Today

Even in normal circumstances there are many stressors that threaten our mental well being. Depression is not just a controllable reaction to ordinary life. It is a disease that often requires treatment. Quite sadly society still tends to see it as a kind of weakness in those whom it afflicts. Far too many believe that dealing with depression is little more than a matter of changing one’s attitude, thinking positive thoughts, trusting in God. They believe that depression is a kind of selfishness that only occurs because the person afflicted with it is unwilling to “get a grip.” Depression as other mental illnesses is still hidden and all too often viewed so negatively that it is barred from open discussion. We will listen to someone describing a heart attack and even support them as they recover but we tend to squirm uncomfortably in conversations about depression. 

Depressed people often feel abandoned, alone and misunderstood. They fear mentioning their illness lest the lose jobs or friendships. Society values strength of character so highly that depressed persons are wary of mentioning their affliction, often making excuses for their absences. They too often live in a world darkened even more by the white lies that they tell to hide their affliction. 

I recall the furor that occurred in a presidential election when it was discovered that one of the vice presidential candidates had been treated for depression. Rather than applauding him for seeking treatment he was derided as someone who would be unfit for the job. The backlash was horrific and set back mental health even more than it already was. Ironically few people were aware that one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, suffered from depression that was so extreme that he had a breakdown after the death of a person who had been very special to him. 

Of late famous individuals are courageously stepping out of the shadows of depression and speaking of their own journeys with the disease. Michael Phelps is one the most notable among them. He has become a spokesperson and advocate for seeking medical help when darkness of the mind becomes crushing. He has now admitted to being plagued by crippling depression for most of his life. He had moments when he was so sick that he seriously considered killing himself even as he was one of the most celebrated athletes in the world. It was only when his pain became unbearable that he sought the medical therapies that he needed to feel whole and healthy again. 

During this time of pandemic depression is on the rise. It is often triggered by stress and uncertainty or extreme changes of normal routines. It knows no demographic limits. it can affect young and old, poor and wealthy. No doubt it is reaching into thousands of households as individuals deal with the threat of illness, loss of jobs, dwindling incomes, concerns about sending children to school, fears of eviction, struggles with the deaths of loved ones. The world is being slammed to an extent rarely endured and depression is spreading suffering on a scale that we rarely see. 

In a recent podcast Michelle Obama spoke of her own sadness during the pandemic. Even though her situation is safe and secure she has been troubled and worried by what she sees happening to so many Americans. She realizes that there is a kind of national grief that so many of us are experiencing. Sometimes the brain chemistry that creates those dark feelings gets out of hand and the level of depression becomes unbearable. She urged all of us to reach out to those that we know and love, not just in emails and texts and posts on Facebook but with phone calls and face to face conferences.

We need human contact even as we require social distances. Behind our masks are psychological needs that grow into physical illnesses of the mind if we do not care for ourselves. As someone who is an unreserved advocate for mental health I know how dire depression can become if left untreated. Many times I watched my mother devolve into a paralyzing darkness that literally led her to a state of psychosis. Time and again I had to force her to accept medical attention that she desperately needed. I implore everyone to watch for signs of distress in both themselves and those they love. Do not hesitate to reach out for help. Contact friends. Contact doctors. Do not ignore the signs. Depression is a treatable disease. 

It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to be as vigilant about depression as we are with Covid-19. The virus is creating havoc in often unseen ways. We have to wear our masks and follow the guidelines for social distancing but we also need to support one another emotionally. If the government will not provide security for those who are in dangerous economic situations then those of us fortunate enough to be okay need to find someone who is not and adopt them. Nobody should be thrown to the wolves during this time. It is up to all of us to provide support, love and understanding. Somebody needs you today. 

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

adult black pug
Photo by Charles on Pexels.com

I am a planner, a controller, a doer. I usually fill up my calendar and keep myself organized and busy. I’m like the energizer bunny on steroids. I make my bed each morning and put everything away in its place each evening. I know what I am going to do and how I will accomplish it weeks in advance. I rarely waste a single minute of each day even in retirement. Suddenly my way of living for a lifetime has been upended. My calendar is empty. I’ve come to fully appreciate my mother’s mantra of “God willing” when agreeing to any future activities. Covid-19 has forced me more than any other event in my life to slow down and smell the roses. 

I now allow myself to stay awake until 2:00 in the morning if something catches my interest late at night. I no longer feel guilty about sleeping until 9:00 in the morning or staying in my pajamas until noon. I eat ice cream and make banana bread instead of worrying about my waistline. I have not used makeup since February. The only time I wear shoes is when I’m walking on my treadmill or working in the yard. I “attend” mass on Sundays in jeans and baggy t-shirts. I get great joy out of very small things like a strikingly lovely bumble bee who hovers over my hibiscus bush or the family of cardinals that feast at my bird feeder. I enjoy the laughter of the children playing in my neighborhood as much as the sound of a symphony. I celebrate the mere act of waking up each morning and still being virus free. 

It’s not easy to set aside a lifetime of habits. Nothing before made me change my ways, not even retirement. I measured the success of my day by the number of my accomplishments. I judged myself on the miles that I walked, the pages that I wrote, the places that I went. As I erased my future plans one by one from my calendar I became less and less sad. They were just ways of filling the time, small sacrifices compared to the ones that so many people have been making. I realized that nothing that I did was as important as doing my part to help slow the spread of Covid 19. That meant curtailing my usual activities and being conservative in my outings and contacts with people. 

I’ve had to find ways to make my quietly mundane days bearable. In doing that I slowed my pace and learned to revel in silence. I have always struggled with the idea of meditation because my mind seems always to be racing. In the past many weeks I have enjoyed sitting and listening to my own breathing. I have felt the pulsating beat of my heart. I have noticed the wind and the birds and rain falling on the pavement. I have felt a greater appreciation of just being alive.

I would love to go back to church and sit among the people there. I want to get my hair trimmed and enjoy a pedicure. I long to hug the members of my family and my dear friends. I want to travel again before I grow so old that I am no longer able to walk for miles exploring new places. I dream of  being able to visit my aunts and uncle who are in nursing homes once again. I miss having tea time with my niece. I find that there is little else that I now want to do. I don’t need to shop or eat out or go to a movie theater. I don’t want to run around all day doing things that I may accomplish inside my home. Covid 19 has allowed me to think deeply about what is most important. 

I am happy to do my part to help end this tragic occurrence that has so changed our world. I still teach my little band of students remotely. I wear my mask willingly. I order my groceries through Instacart and give the workers who bring them to me very generous tips because I so appreciate what they doing. I get most of everything else I need from Amazon or by purchasing from other online vendors. I support local restaurants by getting take out now and again. I mostly take rides for diversion rather than mixing it up with people in enclosed spaces. I’ve already signed up for voting by mail to insure that I will be able to cast my vote in November no matter what the state of things may be.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but somehow Covid 19 has managed to do that for me. In a strange way it has actually made me more aware and thankful. Nonetheless I feel great sadness for those who have been so hurt by this sometimes deadly virus. I cry at the news of a teenager losing both of his parents or the story of an elderly couple dying on the same day. It is difficult to see Covid 19 as anything other than a great tragedy. I pray constantly that an end to all of the suffering will come sooner rather than later. I pray that each of us will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I pray that we will never forget how dependent we are on one another. I pray that I will spend however many days and years I have left on this earth always remembering what is truly important. 

 

Leadership

antique antique globe antique shop antique store
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

My mama would never forget the calm that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor brought to the American people during World War II. She often spoke of gathering around the radio to listen to updates, encouragement and calls for a national effort from the president. She quite proudly outlined the many sacrifices that citizens made and the overall unity of purpose that spread across the land. She would get quite emotional when describing how things were and she always ended such remembrances with tears as she described how she felt when President Roosevelt died. 

My mother also held up Eleanor Roosevelt as an exemplar of womanhood. I suppose that I grew up admiring this wonderful First Lady because of my mom’s influence. Mama told me about Ms. Roosevelt’s intelligence and compassion. I would later learn even more about this remarkable woman in books and documentaries. She was the favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt and her influence on her husband and our country was profound. 

I’ve had a fascination with the era of World War II when my mother was still just a teenager. My interest in life during that time only increased when my mother-in-law told me stories that added to my knowledge of the incredible efforts made by ordinary people to help in the battle against Germany and Japan. In the face of early losses the American people remained determined to support the Allied Forces even if it meant enduring great privation. 

I suppose that I have always believed that the American people are living heroes and people of great selflessness and resolve. Even as I see a deterioration of those important values I am not yet ready to accept that we have somehow lost our willingness to work for a common good even when it is difficult. I still see incredible resolve and compassion in the work of our medical community that is being battered by Covid 19. In spite of the dangers and the exhausting schedules they return day after day to save lives even as they hear whispers that they are somehow hiding information or cures from us. 

I see our nation’s teachers preparing for a new school year that will most certainly be wrought with problems. In spite of concerns for the health and safety of themselves and their students they are gearing up with masks and face shields and disinfectant in the hopes of keeping everyone safe. They are marching into the unknown with the resolve to educate our children and allow parents to return to work even as they know the dangers that may lurk ahead. 

Our first responders continue to answer calls for help never quite knowing what they may encounter. Already their ranks have been thinned by the virus and sadly some of their comrades have died. Still they do their jobs just as they have been trained to do. 

The vast majority of citizens want to help beat back the virus. They wear masks, ignoring their discomfort in support of a cause bigger than themselves. they keep their interactions with others to a minimum, avoiding crowds and large gatherings. They are very conscious and respectful of other people’s needs. They listen to their doctors and follow guidelines in the hopes of keeping Covid 19 at bay. 

So why is there still so much pushback in the country and a rapidly growing feeling that Covid 19 is out of control? I suspect that the problem lies in a lack of proper leadership. More than  anything we need to see politics set aside and a united effort from national, state and local offices. A successful program will have to begin at the very top with honesty and compassion, not efforts to undo safety measures or cater to a fringe group that is unhappy. Here a a few suggestions for our president:

  • If we should all wear masks then make it a nationwide program and lead the effort by modeling mask wearing behavior whenever you are in a public gathering. 
  • Give us the data without boasts about how much better we are than other countries. This is not a contest. 
  • Help us to believe that you actually care. Do not dismiss the suffering by noting that most old people and those with underlying health issues are the ones who are dying while it’s just like sniffles for everyone else. 
  • Have some earnest compassion without ever drawing comparisons or using the “I” word. 
  • Support governors and mayors regardless of party affiliation. Help them rather than pointing out their faults.
  • Ask the First Lady to speak to us as well. She is a charming woman who seems to have a genuinely kind heart. Allow her to show it in ways other than redoing the  White House garden.
  • Ask the members of your base who are ignoring the guidelines to join in the united efforts. They will listen to you and do whatever you ask of them.
  • Help us to believe that doing the right thing is more important to than winning the election.
  • Bring us together so that we can be the kind of Americans  who helped the world the eliminate the tyrants of World War II. Let us join the rest of the world in defeating Covid-19, not to win glory for ourselves but to save lives everywhere in a spirit of cooperation.
  • In other words, pull us together like FDR did. 
  • Be a true leader and we will follow.

I want to make America great again. I want a leader who is sincerely working for the good of all  of us. Is that too much to ask?