“I heard no call, Father,” I said. “I came here as a stranger, and I came by chance.”
“Was it as a stranger and by chance you wept?” he said, then let me wonder at his words a while before he spoke again. “When a man leaves home, he leaves behind some scrap of his heart. Is it not so, Godric? . . . It’s the same with a place a man is going to. Only then he sends a scrap of his heart ahead.”
– Originally published in Godric by Frederick Buchener
This quote pretty much says how it is for us: when we leave Pennswood, we leave a scrap of our heart behind (as we did when we left our home in Cape May Point and before that, Somerville). And each place we go, we send a scrap of our heart ahead.
Diana Nyad on Living Your Dreams. Just before we left Key West we saw an extraordinary live performance of Onward, a one-woman show by the only person who has swum the 110 miles from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage.
Diana Nyad, a professional, long-distance swimmer, was 30 when she tried the swim the third time. Thirty years later, at age 60, she began a fourth try and almost died, swimming into highly venomous, box jellyfish (its tentacles can exceed 20 feet, the “box” size 9 inches square, with 15 tentacles at each corner, and 500,000 harpoon-like stingers on each tentacle). Here’s her inspiring TED talk, done after that fourth failed attempt, describing the experience.
Three years later, at age 63, she made a fifth attempt using a full-body wet suit and a specially-designed soft plastic mask to protect her body, head and entire face during the night when the jellyfish aren’t visible. After swimming an exhausting 53 hours, she successfully arrived at the beaches of Key West.
Listening to her story, seeing film clips of her team of 25 (including a jellyfish specialist, the kayak with the small, red, digital light that led her at night to keep her from drifting with the Gulf Stream, and the teams of divers with PVC poles who swam underneath her to fend off the sharks), hearing her sing snatches of the songs she sang to herself hour-after-hour to keep herself moving forward (from rock songs to, at the end, Itsy, Bitsy Spider)—it was a spellbinding theater! Her motto is “Find A Way!” May she inspire us all to keep reaching for our dreams.
Now 65, she concludes, “Endurance is not a young person’s game. I thought I might even be better at 60 then I was at 30. You have a body that’s almost as strong, but you have a much better mind,”—and “Never let go of your dreams!” Her play will be on tour for the next year. If you have the opportunity to see it, don’t miss it. (more images)
Arriving at our next destination.
Since March 1, we’ve been in an RV campground halfway between Ft. Pierce and Vero Beach. With about 420 campsites and cabins, beautiful wooded sites, a heated swimming pool, a café, a fishing pond, 6 Bocce courts, tennis courts, basketball court, a 9-hole golf course, and lots of resident activities (including occasional speakers, entertainment, crafts & hobbies, and an inter-faith minister who leads services on Sundays), it’s a delightful community. We’ll be here til April 1 when we leave for St. Petersburg.
How we spend our time.
A number of people have asked how we can be away so long and what we do when we’re not “on the road.” Here’s the short version: we do whatever we’d normally do at home—but with expanded opportunities (like the Diana Nyad performance above). We also work on taxes, pay bills, cook meals, clean up after ourselves, do dishes, do laundry, engage is citizen activism by phone, letter or email, walk 35-45 minutes a day , read the morning paper, spend time with family or friends (our favorite activity!), go to an occasional movie, send postcards, answer emails and make and receive phone calls (that’s how we keep in touch), and mostly write (like this blog [mostly me], opinion pieces [mostly Richmond], and work on our books). Both of us also do a great deal of reading to keep informed on current events and to become aware of what’s going on in the communities we’re visiting (like attending the St. Lucie County Fair and riding the Ferris wheel for the first time in years).
In addition, over the last two months, I’ve been taking an on-line experimental course, a 7-week class that required at least 5 hours of reading each week in preparation for structured conference call discussions with a small group of 8-10. It’s been intellectually stimulating, rigorous, inspiring, heart-opening, challenging—and thrilling in its hopefulness about the future.
Will You Join Me and Share Your Take on This?
During these seemingly endless, cold, dark days of winter, I invite you to explore some possibilities with me. If you read all the way to the end, I hope you’ll share your comments with me. (The form sends a private email to me when you submit it.)
Imagine if you read the daily paper, news magazines or TV news expecting to be inspired and/or to become more optimistic. Optimism, according to the most recent article on health and longevity in Time magazine (Feb. 23, 2015 issue), is good for our health.
Yet we are constantly immersed in “news” selected for its “entertainment/dramatic/emotional” value—mostly negative (win-lose outcomes, human dysfunction, horror, violence, mayhem). Our news sources are severely limited as news sources consolidated over the last two decades. We’ve gone from 50 sources in 1983 to six in 2011:
- GE (Comcast, NBC)
- News Corp. (Fox, Wall St. Journal, NY Post)
- Disney (ABC, ESPN, Pixar)
- Time Warner (CNN, HBO, Time, Warner Bros.)
- CBS (Smithsonian, NFL, Jeopardy, 60 Minutes)
(see graphic here: http://owni.eu/2011/11/25/infographic-media-consolidation-the-illusion-of-choice/ ):
So my first question is, “Where do we get new sources of news, news about what’s emerging, what’s changing for the better, what people are doing to make the world a better place?”
Some people get their news from emails exchanged with their friends over the internet but often it’s fear-mongering, more of the same negativity: name-calling, prejudiced, biased, anonymous unsubstantiated assertions. So my second question, How many of us fact-check the emails we pass along to others to be sure they’re well grounded? How can we free ourselves from fear and anger when we’re bombarded by its messages, from multiple sources, hundreds of times a day?”
Freeing Fear/Annulling Anger. A psychiatrist, Sally Severino, MD, wrote,
We will always feel fear and anger because we live in human bodies, but we can live with heroic compassion despite these emotions. Fear and anger change with age. As a child, I feared the dark and became angry if I was told “No.” Adulthood carried the fear of not fulfilling responsibilities and brought on anger when I felt thwarted in my strivings. Now in seniorhood, my fears focus on loss—of loved ones, cherished dreams, and physical strength. My anger typically arises in reaction to my sense of impotence.
We can, however, free ourselves from fear and annul our anger by realizing that both emotions occur when we dwell in the past or invent the future. The spirituality of aging invites us to live in the present. It invites us to grieve the past and let go of our perceptions of what the future “should be.” By doing so, we don’t destroy fear or anger but change our perceptions of them. We welcome their role in alerting us to danger, but free ourselves from their power to determine our actions by putting ourselves in a state of calm, using whatever works for us: prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, etc. In a body-state of calm, we can allow love to determine our actions.
Oneing, Vol.1, #2, p.34, a publication of the Rohr Institute
Interestingly, the health and longevity Time article —based on current research from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UCSF, Vanderbilt, and others—agrees. It concludes,
The fact is that the aging odometer never runs backward. The 70-year old will always be 10 years older than the 60-year old. But if you’re talking about how many years both of these people have remaining, put your money on a happy, active 70 over a cynical, sedentary 60. That, if nothing else, puts a sweet twist on the hard rule that all lives must end: enjoy the time you’ve got and you just might get more of it.
A lot of the current research on human happiness mirrors the same insights: that beyond a very basic requirement for material things, our happiness rests on healthy environments, nurturing relationships, being part of a loving community, having a purpose for living.
My third question is, How we can possibly be optimistic in the face of so many looming global problems? What difference can one human life make? What if we changed the stories we tell each other every day? What if we engaged optimism, humor, and creativity to stay connected to ourselves and each other? What if we changed the “game” that we engage in from “MORE” to “BETTER?” Here’s a short, 9-minute video from one of my favorite sources, Annie Leonard, whose PhD research 20 years ago has led her into creating new ways of seeing the world around us.
Don’t miss this one! She suggests not that we’re damaged or evil human beings bent on destroying the planet, but rather that we’ve been playing the wrong game too successfully, that what we want isn’t “more” (bigger/better/newer/different things) but an economy based on “better” (better schools, better energy sources, better environmental conditions, better ways to survive on this planet). The good news is that all our global problems are interconnected, and when we work on one aspect, it affects all the others too.
See the video: (click here)
Health Care, Immigration, a Growing Aging Population, Job Creation.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to address all these at the same time? To find solutions that improve our economy, strengthen our democracy, and make our country more equitable? Recently I read a book called Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
It’s been one of the top ten NY Times Non-Fiction Best Sellers for over 20 weeks. He writes as a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and as a Harvard professor and as the son of two medical doctors. He came face to face with the limits of medical technology and heroic interventions when his father, also a successful surgeon, discovered he had a spinal cord tumor and experienced ODTAA syndrome (One Damn Thing After Another) as the months and then years passed. His book shows what the courageous conversations are that we need to have with ourselves and with those we love about the limits of medicine and what matters. He concludes,
Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength. At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness. The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality. . .but even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find. . .When it is hard to know what will happen, it is hard to know what to do. . . One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most. . . What goals are most important to [my father]? What tradeoffs was [he] willing to make?
Since, as he says, “in the United States, 25% of all Medicare spending is for the 5% of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months, the quality of which is often degraded by painful and invasive medical treatments,” this is a conversation that concerns us all. He further suggests,
People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationship with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden to others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete. . .The question therefore is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health care system that will actually help people achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.
The Work That Makes All Other Work Possible
Happily another book filled with practical solutions leaped into my hands, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America by Ai-Jen Poo.
She speaks first to “the sandwich generation” (we already have many people in the prime of their careers, struggling to care for their children and parents—and people in nursing homes who are in their 80’s side-by-side with a parent who’s over 100). She quotes Rosalynn Carter:
There are only four kinds of people in the world:
those who have been caregivers,
those who are currently caregivers,
those who will be caregivers,
and those who need caregiving.
Ai-Jen Poo (www.caringacross.org ) brilliantly brings together the concerns of immigration, skilled jobs creation, the sandwich generation, and the booming (and aging) Baby Boomers. Articulate, engaging and strategic, she makes the case for “a caring economy.” Here are some interesting insights:
- By 2018, demand for home care will increase by more than 90%
- Home care is the fastest growing of all occupations in the nation
- One-quarter of today’s home care workers who do child care, elder care, and care for those with disabilities—those most precious and most vulnerable among us—are workers who were born outside the U.S., about half of whom are undocumented
- Most care, regardless of the demographic or economic status, falls on women who are confronted with “impossible choices,” emotionally, physically and financially
- Almost all our major laws and systems for care are based on standards and demographics from another era (both farm workers and care workers are exempted from the National Labor Laws)
- Seven in 10 of us will need home care at some point in our lives, due to disability or the simple process of getting older
- Ninety percent of us would prefer to stay at home or in our apt. instead of being placed in a nursing facility
Her book, and the organizations she co-founded, are collaborating with the entertainment, advertising and media industries, to use storytelling to build a Caring Majority, to shift how Americans feel about aging, to create a culture that “embraces the joys and complexities of aging, celebrates multigenerational relationships, and the value of care work—the work that makes all other work possible.” To hear how she resolves the immigration issue, you have to read the book (or ask me!).
For both caregivers and families who need care, Ai-Jen Poo’s book offers practical, affordable solutions that are already emerging in communities as diverse as Boston, Washington, DC, NYC and Japan. As an opinion leader, I think you’ll want to read these books and share them with others.
And speaking of recommendations, we’re not big movie-goers, but we just saw two movies on these subjects that provided much enjoyment (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Richare Gere and others) and many good laughs. They are The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (available through Amazon.com) and its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (still in the theaters). We saw them in the wrong order (i.e., the second one first ), but you should definitely see the first one—and then go and see the second one.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this blog. I’d love your feedback. Was this conversation interesting? Did you learn anything? What new possibilities do you see for yourself?