The Ticking Clock

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How can it already be September? Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were ringing in the New Year? When did tiny strands of grey appear in my hair. How did my knees come to ache when I walk too far? Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was able to run like a deer and see without the aide of spectacles? When did my long narrow waist become thick? From whence came the wrinkles and folds in my skin. Wasn’t I a young woman looking into the future with boundless dreams only a week or so ago? How does the same time that creeps in its petty pace suddenly race so quickly that I lose track of its passage?

I never thought of growing older. It seemed to be an aspect of life reserved for my elders. Somehow it rarely occurred to me that I might one day be respectfully called “mum” or “mother” as a sign of my advancing age. I look into the mirror and I see my twenty year old self, not the seventy year old woman who has lost two and a half inches of height and whose eyelids droop over her once big brown eyes. My brush accumulates more and more of my thinning hair and I have taken to wearing comfortable shoes rather than stylish pumps. The world and its future is being overtaken by younger women with ideas that sometimes seems as strange to me as mine appear to them. Yet somehow I find myself fighting to maintain my relevance, my purpose on this earth before I am called to one day leave.

My mother embraced her age as have so many women before me. I struggle to stay in the game, to be considered woke. Haven’t there been women my age running for President of the United States? Isn’t Ruth Bader Ginsburg still demonstrating an incredible acuity of mind? Who determines when someone should retire to a state of old age? Why should I simply sit back and watch the rising and setting of the sun without making efforts to squeeze every single second of meaning out of my existence? After all I come from a line of people who live for a very long time. If I make it as much time as two of my aunts I still have at least thirty more years to contribute to society. If I consider my grandfather I can tack on another eight years. People have entire careers in less time than I may still enjoy if I am true to my DNA.

The world is not the place it was. We are often able to keep our minds and our bodies vibrant far longer than once thought possible. Our appearances may change and we may move with less vigor, but our minds are as alive as ever. Coupled with the experiences that we have had we are in many ways the wise men and women of our time. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ve endured triumphs and tribulations and learned from each of them. We understand that simple answers are rare, but there are solutions for even the seemingly most hopeless situations. We also understand that there comes a time when we must give the young the freedom that they need to learn how to be stewards of the world when it is time for them assume the leadership roles that we once held.

Hopefully the world that we leave behind will be somehow better for our having been here. I’d like to think that each of us will have a positive impact on some person or problem or advancement. Since there is still so much to be done, we should search for new ways of making a difference now that we are no longer part of the teeming race of workers who report to jobs each day. Ours may now be small almost imperceptible contributions that nonetheless are important. What we accomplish may be as simple as sending an encouraging word to a young person who is struggling to launch. Ours are now the quieter moments that touch individuals more often than creating a buzz in the crowd.

I am indeed older. I see loveliness in the hard work that shows on my hands. Unlike what people may think about someone of my age, I know that I am more open and forgiving than I once was for I have seen my own humanity and weaknesses. I have somehow overcome them with the grace and help of others. It has been in the kindnesses of even people that I did not know that I have been able to survive this long. Now I understand that it is up to me to continue to pay my blessings forward.

I do my best to spend a part of each day outside of myself. I have friends who are far more gifted in such ways than I am and they continually inspire me. I see them spending time at nursing homes and bringing smiles to people who are sick and lonely. I watch them unselfishly donating their talents to causes that make life better. I read their evangelical praises of God and know that they are living breathing angels of example. I am awed by them and do my best to emulate them in tiny ways. They are my peers who are not daunted by the passing of time and the aging of their bodies. They are good people who forget themselves and focus on others.

We live in a world that idolizes the young and the beautiful. That is perhaps as it should be, but those of us who are moving ever closer to the inevitability of closing the circle of life still have so much to offer. We need to spend each day with purpose and resolve. The truly beautiful are those who forget about their images in the mirror and instead devote precious time to benefitting the world just a bit more.

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They Just Set Women Back

St Frances Cabrini

For many years in my adult life I was a member of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. I spent some of my happiest times there, making lifelong friends who literally changed me for the better. At one point I even became one of the Directors of Religious Education which was a groundbreaking move for the parish which had before only employed nuns in such positions. I was honored to have been chosen, but always felt humbled and a bit lacking in the ability to fill the shoes of the two inspirational religious ladies who had come before me. Not everyone in the community was happy with having lay people in charge of such an important program but the times were changing and it was incredibly difficult to find nuns willing to work at such jobs.

My co-leader and I met with a great deal of opposition and worked for an abysmally low salary. The Parish Council had yet to realize that they needed to balance out our pay with the reality that they were not furnishing us with a house, car and food as they had done for the religious women who before had literally lived at the church in a makeshift convent. Because I was able to make four times more working as a teacher I eventually left that job and upon my departure recommended my dear friend Pat as a replacement and that they actually pay her more than the four thousand dollars a year that they had given me. They understood and deferred to my wisdom in both choosing Pat and providing her with an income that was worthy of all of the hard work that the job required.

While I was St. Frances Cabrini Church I was always a bit too busy to learn much about the woman for whom the parish was named. It was not until much later that I took the time to read about her and that is when I understood that I should have made more effort to unravel her story while I was still in charge of the religious education of so many children. Indeed her life should be an inspiration to people of all faiths.

St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy the last of thirteen children near the midpoint of the nineteenth century. The times were quite difficult for her family which was hardworking but barely able to live adequately due to grinding poverty. Most of Mother Cabrini’s siblings died before reaching adulthood and she herself was always in poor health. Nonetheless she possessed a great faith in God and decided to dedicate her life to helping others by joining a religious group.

At first St. Frances was rejected by several orders because she was deemed too weak to handle the routine and rigors of religious life, but she persisted and finally found a place to begin her religious life. She proved to be incredibly dedicated to helping the poor. So much so that her work caught the eyes of the bishops in her country. They asked her to travel to the United States of America where millions of Italians were going in hopes of finding a better way of life. Unfortunately they rarely moved beyond New York City itself and the conditions in which they lived there were almost as bad as those they had left behind. Mother Cabrini agreed to lend her compassion and abilities to get things done for them.

While in New York City she worked tirelessly to help not just Italian immigrants but those of all kinds who were pouring into the country from all over the world. She founded schools, hospitals and orphanages that made a stunning difference in the lives immigrants struggling to get a foothold in the new land. She found time in the midst of her work to become an American citizen and before long she was taking to her talents to other cities and states like Chicago and places as far away as Colorado. In spite of recurring illnesses she was a tireless advocate for the downtrodden and by the time of her death at the age of sixty eight she had accomplished wondrous things for the poor. Eventually she would be named a saint by Pope Pius XII and be known as the patron of immigrants, the first ever American citizen to have such an honor.

Recently the wife of the mayor of  New York City headed an effort to honor women who had contributed to the development of the metropolis in a drive called She Built NYC. The intent of the program was to choose a group of women who would have statues erected in their names to correct the unbalance of male versus female icons. A committee was formed to determine who the outstanding women might be. In order to include the voice of the people of NYC a contest was held and not so amazingly St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was the unmatched winner. Sadly the committee chose to ignore the votes and instead choose four women who did not even appear on any of the ballots that people sent to them. This was done with no explanation and has thus infuriated many of the people who had supported St. Frances Cabrini, particularly because she was such an advocate of the immigrant. Instead of honoring the peoples’ choice the committee decided to go with an abortion activist and two drag queens whom they deemed to be more in keeping with the intent of the project. 

I am saddened that the work of a woman as dedicated and giving as St. Frances Cabrini would somehow be considered less important and perhaps less woke than those with more radical contributions to the city. If the committee had always been looking for only those women who had upended traditions then that should have been made clear from the outset. Instead the title of the the drive is She Built NYC, and it is impossible to argue that building schools and hospitals for immigrants is not as meaningful as being a rebel. Thus a furor has arisen within the city of New York and across the country.

I have no problem with honoring unconventional women but I would argue that leaving one’s native country and traveling to New York City in the early years of the twentieth century to work in the bleak conditions of Italian ghettoes was as challenging a task as one might ever accept. To deny Mother Frances’ contribution to the City of New York because she was not audacious or minority enough is certainly to miss the essence of her work. This was a woman whose character was made of steel and she should be serving as an inspiration to women all over the world. It would have been courageous and proper for the committee to choose her, especially given that so many thought of her when considering who best deserved the honor. I’m sorry to say that the committee blew it in some contrived way of appearing to be progressive. Their efforts will forever be tainted by the kind of stereotyping that has challenged women for all time. They just set women back.

Make America Kind Again

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I have always believed that my country is built on kindness for the most part. Certainly there have always been mean, evil and violent people, but in truth they have lived on the fringes of society. To a large extent they have been rightly or wrongly ignored up until recently. There have also been unjust policies in the history of our country, but we have always seemed to eventually rid ourselves of them and attempted to be fair. Lately, however, being fair, calm, kind seems almost out of style. We all too often judge someone who is quiet or willing to hear all sides of an argument and even change as someone who is wimpy or without moral compass. Our admiration tends toward the fighters among us, the more belligerent souls who seemingly take delight in tearing people down and hurling insults at those with whom they disagree. Large numbers of the population of the United States see them as people of great strength and more and more often their ways are being emulated by even our young.

My nature is to be quiet and respectful. I am always willing to listen to all aspects of a particular situation. I am quite flexible and open to changes even of myself. I suppose that I may be viewed as someone who is not particularly strong, but I know when I need to be tough and I have exhibited grit whenever life demanded it from me. For the most part I have tried to never be unkind to even those who have hurt me. Instead I honestly attempt to understand why they felt they needed to be ugly. I generally find that such tortured souls are hurting inside, and their taunts are more often than not a disguise in which they hide their own weaknesses.

The most courageous people that I have ever known whether through personal experience or the study of history have been persons who possess what I see as all of the finest human qualities. They have eschewed boastfulness and attempted to be infinitely fair. They are rarely guilty of deliberately hurting another. Often they are quite humble and unwilling to boast of their own accomplishments. I admire them because I see them as being the very sort of people that we might use more of in today’s divisive and insult ridden environment. I believe that the last thing we need are bullies and loud mouths. It’s time that we search for those who honestly strive to be of service to humanity rather than themselves.

In the final months and weeks of his life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grieved over evidence that there were still so many people who believed that his adherence to nonviolence was a weak way to solve problems. He admitted to his own frustrations but held on to his insistence that it would only be through passive resistance that we would ultimately find a way of living together in unity. His focus was on looking to a future about which he often dreamed. He understood he might never see perfection but he still saw a vision of a promised land and it was not marred by divisions and hatefulness.

One of the most telling aspects of John McCain’s character came when he was running for president against Barack Obama. I’ll never forget when a woman accused President Obama of vile things and McCain immediately corrected her, insisting that Obama was a good man and explaining that he only disagreed with Obama on how to get things done. Some saw that as being wishy washy. I saw it as being akin to the courage that he demonstrated when he was a prisoner of war. Senator McCain became a great man in my eyes at that moment and for the rest of his life he did not disappoint me in that regard even though there where times when I did not agree with his political ideas.

I feel the same about Senator Mitt Romney. People attacked him for his willingness to change his stance on certain issues in the light of changing times and new information. Frankly I think that anyone who is so hard headed that he/she will not budge even when data clearly demonstrates wrong thinking is somewhat irrational. I am wary of such people because I have found over and over again that very little in this life is etched in stone. There are exceptions to virtually every rule or argument and being open to ideas is in fact a sign of strength, not weakness.

In our last presidential election I honestly felt that neither candidate sincerely cared more about the people than themselves. The result of that contest has lead us to a low point in our nation’s history, but I fear that if things had been different it may not have been any better. Now we have a room full of candidates vying to see who can be the most audacious and many of them attack the very principals and characteristics of each other that I find the most genuine. They appear to be taking a page from the playbook of boastful loud mouths and that worries me intensely.

I believe that bullies, mass shooters, racists, and other vile individuals are an aberration. They do not represent our country and yet they are getting the center of the stage, and foolish people seeking power accuse the rest of us of being complicit in creating them. There is a media push to make us believe that the ugliness that we see is commonplace and typical of certain groups of people. The truth is that what the vast majority want is to make America kind again. If we manage to do that then it will also be great. Kindness does not mean allegiance to one political party or another. It means looking for good men and women who respect and understand us without rancor for those with whom they disagree. It means looking for humble and flexible people who are courageous enough to admit when they are wrong. Surely there are many such souls in our ranks. Now is the time to find them. Let’s insist on making America kind again.

Legends of Rock

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I was a sophomore in high school when I first heard the Rolling Stones on the radio. I must have been about fifteen years old, the same age that my granddaughter is now. I went to Gulfgate Mall to purchase their single recording, Satisfaction, which I played over and over again. I nearly wore the thing out, and luckily my mom was cool enough that she never complained about the volume nor the repetition of the same song for hours. In fact she danced around the house proclaiming that she too enjoyed the music, which grossed me out just a bit. It seemed incongruous that an older woman would share my adoration of the Rolling Stones.

It would be years before I did the math and realized that my mother was still in her thirties at the time that I thought she was being a wee bit immature. She was a young woman by any standards but I was part of the Baby Boomer movement that was proclaiming that we would never trust anyone over thirty. I only gave my mom the benefit of the doubt because she really did seem more hip than most parents, and besides she was the rock of our family.

My love for the music of the Rolling Stones has never waned. I am now a bit more than fifty years older and I still want to get up and dance around the room whenever I hear the strains of their many hits. I often joke that one day there will be events in nursing homes that feature Satisfaction blaring through the speakers and residents moving in sync in their wheelchairs. The Rolling Stones are now a legendary band, icons in the world of rock that I had the pleasure of seeing perform in their No Filter Tour that came through Houston in July.

The affair was supposed to happen in April but was postponed because Mick Jagger required open heart surgery. It didn’t sound too good for the future of the band, but those of us who held tickets were assured that we would soon hear of the new date for the affair. I was both disappointed and concerned. I worried that age had finally caught up with Mick and that we might not get the same performance level given the seriousness of his health scare. I saw the concert as a kind of last hurrah for the band and a sure sign that I wasn’t fifteen anymore.

Mike and I were like two teenagers fraught with expectation as we arrived at Reliant Stadium on the night of the event. I laughed at all of the white and grey haired spectators in the audience. In my head I felt sure that neither of us looked as old as the other folks who like us had been around when the Mick was still strutting around like a crazed rooster. It unnerved me a bit when younger fans asked us what it was like to hear the Stones back in the day as though we were oddities from a long ago time. They were reverential and respectful to point of making me realize that we probably did indeed look as old as our peers whose youthful bloom had faded into wrinkles, baldness and fifty shades of grey.

We played a game of “where were you when” with several folks as we waited somewhat impatiently for the music to begin. We sat through the front band, Bishop Gunn, with a kind of painful realization of how ordinary they were compared to the great Stones who were to follow. Lots of older women chose this time to take one final bathroom break knowing that their bladders probably would not hold out if they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

In what seemed like forever, the lights finally dimmed and the first strains of a familiar song drifted up to the rafters of the stadium while a cheer of anticipation filled the air. The Rolling Stones were on the stage performing as though they were young twenty somethings, perhaps with a bit more polish and self assurance than ever. Mick Jagger was slim and trim and as energetic and captivating as ever. Keith Richards had eschewed a bandana to allow us to see that he was indeed going bald which didn’t matter to us in the least as he ran his fingers so nimbly over his guitar. Ronnie Wood still looked the image of a rocker with his sixties style hair and jewel colored shirt and coat. Charlie Watts was the picture of calm and sweetness as he banged out the tunes on his drum. The guys looked absolutely fabulous and played even better.

The band was in fine tune with an even better performance than the last one I had seen a few years back. They played with the confidence that only comes from natural talent, charisma, and experience. They used their tried and true formula to enchant the crowd and for the next two hours they gave us a show that we would never forget.

I felt as though the members of the band had personally contacted me to find out what I wanted on the playlist because they performed every one of the tunes that are my favorites, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash, Paint It Black, Sympathy With the Devil, Gimme Shelter, Satisfaction. As the evening progressed everyone on the stage and in the audience became ageless. White hair, no hair, seventy or seventeen didn’t matter in the least because we were as one in the knowledge that we had witnessed rock history, a moment of greatness that we would never forget.

I remember being in a speech class when I was a senior. We were divided into two sides each of which was asked to prepare persuasive arguments designed to convince the class that either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones was the better band that would be remembered for the longest time. I was assigned the Beatles and my team lost to a group advocating that is was in fact the Stones who would become timeless. Ironically while it might be argued that both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have become the undisputed icons of the sixties and perhaps all of rock history, it has been the Rolling Stones who have evolved from decade to decade and still mesmerize a crowd. Luckily I got to see them just one more time, and if they decide to come back again one day I will most surely be there again.

The Old West

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I grew up watching westerns with my Uncle Jack. I loved all of those shows about the old west but perhaps my favorite was Bonanza with its stories about the Cartwright family. Hoss and Adam and Little Joe were heroes to me and I loved the tales of their adventures. On many an episode they wandered into Virginia City to take care of business or meet up with friends. I was fascinated by the lifestyle of those long ago towns where folks endured hardship in search of gold or silver or some better way of life. Imagine my delight when our recent travels took us to the real historic Virginia City in Nevada just outside of that state’s capitol, Carson City.

This was once the site of a booming gold rush town. The decaying remnants of the old mines still litter the hillsides in a haunting way. They serve as a reminder of the ebb and flow of booms and busts in the story of mankind. Once they were alive with frantic activity designed to pull riches out of the earth. Now there is little more left than worthless mine trailings and rusty tin walls.

The road into Virginia City climbs through the hills along a paved highway that was no doubt a muddy dirt trail that people from across the globe traveled in the latter half of the nineteenth century in search of opportunity. Most of the buildings in the town date back to the glory days after the 1849 discovery of gold. An old school house tells of the families that came and a saloon is evidence of a different way to create wealth through a more insidious form of entertainment. The buildings are alive with history and seem to be whispering that if one only tarry for a time the secrets that are buried there might be revealed.

As we drove along the main street of Virginia City I found myself feeling the spirit of its settlers of old, people hoping against all hope of finding the mother lode or earning enough to survive by providing services of one kind or another. “Who were the folks who traveled here?” I wondered. What motivated them to leave everything they had ever known to travel to this desert like place where there were no guarantees that their efforts might be rewarded? What dangers lurked? How many if them left broke or forever changed?

We like to romanticize the old west but it was truly a harsh existence. There were many dangers not the least of which was being broken by the challenges. Somehow the folks who came here never thought that perhaps the land they were invading might already belong to Native Americans whose roots were hundreds of years old. They somehow assumed that they had a right to make claims of ownership without compensating those that they displaced. I truly wonder how they could not have known that there was something a bit wrong with their thinking, but then I wasn’t there. Humankind’s journey has been fraught with battles between opposing groups claiming ownership of land since the beginning of time.

Virginia City is a place where time seems to have stopped. It is a tangible piece of history that tells us a story of folks desperate to make something more of their lives. Fortunes were made and lost there. Lives were treated to elation and great disappointment. We have romanticized those tales and made them part of the tradition of the hero’s journey when perhaps they were little more than ordinary efforts to survive. Maybe back then it took great courage just to eke out a living from one day to the next, but there was probably very little glamor in any corner of places like Virginia City.

My paternal ancestors never ventured very far from the land east of the Mississippi River. It was my maternal grandparents eventually found their way to Houston, Texas from Austria Hungary. They had heard stories of a new kind of black gold, oil. While they never engaged in the search for the goo that gushed from the earth they understood that other kinds of services might be needed and they were willing to work long hours cleaning other people’s messes to provide a decent living for themselves. I suspect that their story is mirrored in the lives of those who set out to tackle the old west. Many never became rich but they found ways to work and enjoy a better lifestyle than they might otherwise have had. I suppose this is what people everywhere have always done.

We now debate whether or not this decision or that choice of our ancestors was right and just without ever knowing what peoples’ real motivations were. It is in reality a kind of self righteous judgement on our parts for we will never be able to truly understand what life was like or how the thinking of the past influenced people. Until we are able to walk in a person’s shoes we are only conjecturing as to their thinking and there is something rather presumptuous about that.

I am fascinated by the old west and all of history. Our human imperfections are in full view in the chronicles of the human story. The people who came before us made mistakes just as each of us does even now no matter how well intentioned we might be. We can never judge the actions of others without demonstrating some of our own imperfections. Perhaps it is best just to learn from them and to change our own ways rather than judging whether are not they were worthy of our respect. What happened happened in a world far different from our own. For now it’s just fun to visit the places where people once did their best to make life just a bit better for themselves and their families. It’s really cool to see vestiges of how they lived and to realize the scope of human efforts through the evolution of time.