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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Life in the Pink-Panther Zone or Not

I have to be in the right mood, but occasionally I sit beside my husband and we watch one of his favorite Peter Sellers’ films about the Pink Panther.  Typically, my husband laughs wildly at every turn while I sit tensely with a hesitant half-grin waiting for the next calamity. The Pink Panther makes me nervous. I anticipate his inevitable mishaps and catastrophes. He’s ridiculous on every level, but so easy to get sucked into the chaos and drama he creates. I cringe. I moan. I wait-for-it. And I’m not disappointed. The worst always happens, and then some!

These movies have nothing to do with real life! But there are times when real life can evoke some of those same feelings of anxious anticipation much like a Peter Sellers’ movie does of me!

For instance, there were similar periods of time in my life when my babies were little, then again when they were teenagers, and then again going off to college or the Peace Corps, or about to be married, or move away or have their first baby or buy their first home. There were similar times when my husband and I faced crisis in our relationship, or crisis in a family members life, when finances fell apart or health seemed precarious. There were many times I found myself tensely waiting for “the worst”, holding my breath and fretting… times when I felt like I was sitting on the edge of the couch trying to smile…

Now I’ve seen most of the movie of my story. I don’t know the ending yet and maybe it’s going to be a calamity, or not. But I’ve seen the ending to all those other calamities I witnessed over the many years. Sometimes “the worst” happened. Sometimes even worse than I expected. But sometimes the worst never did happen. But always, I dealt with it, whatever it was.

The beauty of being able to see most of the story now is that I’m still here for the ending. I made it through each circumstance. And from where I sit now, I can honestly say that my anxious anticipation, my holding my breath, my overall fretting did nothing to affect the outcome of any of those situations...nothing!

What I learned that did make a difference, instead, and continues to make a difference today, is when I bring my long-range perspective (wisdom) as well as my best self (character) to each scene.

  • I Accept the Situation. It has happened. I can’t change it. I welcome it as another life experience and an opportunity to learn more about myself and the human existence. I keep my mind and heart open, by not blaming someone, or judging, categorizing or tagging the experience negatively, in order to watch it unfold. This is when I usually need to remind myself to breathe and keep the daily rhythm of my life going with the rituals of self-care and ordinary living.
  • I Name my Part. What do I need to do in order to cope with what has happened?  In order to respond the way I want to, what do I need?  What will it take for me to maintain my own serenity and add to the well-being of those around me? How can I help move through this in the most positive way?  This is usually the time when I take extra time out to pray, meditate and feed my spirit…and journal.
  • I Ask for Help. Who do I need to reach out to for support, encouragement, or resources?  There is always someone who loves me and cares. I try to remember that these times of need are joyful opportunities to share and are not burdens. I remember I am never alone. I ask God.
  • I Release the Outcome. I can only control myself and my response. I can not control other people. I can not control the weather, the universe or time. God is God, I am not.

The Pink Panther movie is no doubt way more entertaining and exciting than my Vibrant Old Woman movie. But living in the midst of high-level drama is no longer appealing. What I want now is to breathe steadily, experience a certain level of serenity, pleasure, and peace of mind assured that whatever comes, I can handle.

“Do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself…”                Matthew 6:34, Holy Bible

How about you? How do you handle anxiety and worry?

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

What I Can Add to the Public Discussion

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, or maybe months, in our nation. The news reports tie my stomach in knots most evenings, but its hard to turn them off and take a break since I don’t want to miss anything important.  Some mornings I wake up with anxiety over what might be happening in Washington. I’ve gone in and out of positions of not wanting to know and wanting to know, over not wanting to care and wanting to speak out and get involved. It’s been perplexing and curious, interesting and disturbing as I’ve watched the leadership change and evolve, and listened to the public discussion in response.

“What can I do?” “What difference can I make?” seem to be the questions I hear most often from friends and neighbors, as well as the ones I ask myself.

One of my favorite authors is  Robert Fulghum who wrote All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I have been reminded of this lately as I’ve heard folk wondering about who the adults are and where they are since the discussion has displayed some pretty childish rhetoric at times. In fact, I don’t think I really ever heard people talking about “who’s the adult in the room” until recently. Maybe there has been in the past an assumption that adult aged people automatically display adult behavior, meaning mature, rational behavior as opposed to emotional, childish behavior, i.e. wanting my own way, wanting to be first, wanting attention, throwing tantrums, outbursts of frustration, etc.

But, it’s never good to make assumptions and though somewhat threatening, it is a good question that can short-circuit irrational and emotional behavior between adults. It’s a question that reminds me I need to put into practice all I learned in kindergarten, especially since I am usually the most adult person in the room…according to age anyway, and even when I am the only one in the room listening to the nightly news, it doesn’t hurt to practice being a grown up.

So, Ive taken some time to review those lessons from kindergarten:*

  • Share Everything
  • Play fair
  • Don’t hit people or call them rude names
  • Clean up your own mess
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together
  • It doesn’t matter who’s first in line, we’re all going to the same place
  • Wait your turn and don’t interrupt
  • Use your words and your inside-voice
  • Take a nap everyday

And, of course, there’s more. (like warm cookies and cold milk are good!) I learned so much in kindergarten!

But I forget…

I raise my voice when I disagree. I call people mean names when they do something I don’t like. I don’t want to apologize when I think you hurt me too. I don’t want to hold your hand when you don’t agree with me and I don’t want to listen to you when I think you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the same place, I still want to be first. And I really don’t want to take a nap and miss out on something!

This, in my view, is what the public discussion has looked like lately: a room full of out of control kindergarten kids.

So where’s the adult?

I’m the adult.

I will be the adult. I will use my inside-voice and will listen to you and wait my turn. I will clean up my own mess and not try to clean up yours as well. I will add to our conversation by behaving like the adult in the room, in whatever room I find myself, public or not so public.

And if I do this, maybe you will too. And if you do this, maybe your friends will too. And maybe my Grandkids will notice and will one day be the adult in the room too, and yours will too.  Maybe if I add kindness and respect to the public conversations I have, and you do too, we will be able to “watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together”.

What do you think? What can you add to the public discussion today that will help answer the question “where is the adult in the room”?

 

*Mostly taken from Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, page 6-7, with some additions and omissions by me.

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Magical Thinking About Aging

“You’re growing up too fast!” I heard myself saying to my youngest grandchild recently.

Seems like a normal response from a granny to her youngest grandchild.  But as I heard the words and saw his somewhat shy and maybe embarrassed look, I wondered what I was really trying to say or what I was feeling when I said this. Did I really mean I was sorry he was growing up?

It sounded as if I thought he was doing something wrong, that he shouldn’t be growing! But in fact, he was right on schedule, growing taller and stronger each year and slowly turning into an adult…just like he was supposed to do, just like I wanted him to do.

It sounded like I wanted him to stay a baby, that I was disappointed that he was growing, maybe even that I liked him better when he was little and younger.

Unless you’re a cheese or a wine, growing older isn’t much valued in our Western society. We are told by marketers and advertisers everyday that we need to look younger and feel younger, indicating looking our age or feeling our age is unacceptable.

Even the word “aging” is used when someone is showing signs of defectiveness. “My, how she’s aged over the last few months!”, meaning she’s rapidly decaying, or not-so-good any more.

And here I was unintentionally adding to this cultural message that bodies must always be cute and pretty, young, small and un-pimpled.

Without consciously thinking about my intention and what I value, I slipped into an accepted cliche and popular response. Maybe I can magically change reality if I don’t acknowledge aging out loud and everything will stay the same and the fairy tale of happily-ever-after will truly happen…these beloved babies will always be babies!

Every once in a while, I too have been the reciprocator of this kind of magical thinking when a lovely soul says something like “You don’t LOOK 74! I would never have guessed you are that old.”  And I blush and take it as a compliment, like as if I’ve done something wonderful, and say “Oh really? Thank you!”  But in reality it only makes me more aware that I shouldn’t be aging, that I should try to look as young as possible, that it isn’t good to be 74 and look 74!

Besides when I view the process of growing old with realistic eyes, without magical thinking, I agree with Michael Caine: “To me, growing old is great. It’s the very best thing – considering the alternative.”

I’m not saying that I want brutal honesty or rudeness. But a more authentic evaluation of age would be welcome. Maybe something like, “My, you are aging well…such a vibrant 74 year old.”

I want my grandchildren to know that growing up is a good thing. I want them to know that each age and stage of life is good and something to be valued. I want them to know they are wonderful right now, just as they are, and I will love them at every age and every size.

But, one thing I know is I’m ready for the next time I see one of my grandchildren. I’m ready to say, “My goodness! Every time I see you, you’ve grown some more. And you are doing such a good job of it!”

What are some other ways we inadvertently contribute to the magical thinking about age? How do you feel about this?

 

 

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

All You Need is Less

I bet you thought this title was a mistake, right? Everyone knows all we need is LOVE…not less!

Well, stay with me here and consider taking an overview of your life, where you’re living right now,  and where you’re going.

Chances are if you are 70 years old or older, retired and in relatively good health, you are beginning to think about downsizing from your family home of many years or you are in the throes of doing it, or you have already made the move.

Whichever it is, you probably have stuff, all kinds of stuff, in piles being sorted, or in boxes waiting to be unpacked or stored or given away, or in containers being hidden until you can organize it or figure out what to do with them!

Why do I think this about you? Because It’s true about me! We are in this together…it’s The American Way: the unbelievable, overwhelming accumulation of stuff. It might even be the #1 First World Problem, judging from what I know about landfills!

Consequently I seem to be a magnet for articles, books, Ted Talks, reports and studies addressing “de-cluttering”, “living simply” or “minimalism”. It seems to always be on my mind. I google the topic and search for clever ways to organize excess stuff that will make me feel like I live simply and uncluttered. I am forever sorting through papers and stacking magazines, clearing off the kitchen counter, etc. etc.

Google the word “clutter”. There are how-to books galore on this subject, as well as  services that provide guidance and even consultants who will come into your home and declutter for you!

And always in the back of my  mind is how to eliminate all the excess stuff NOW so my family won’t have to do it when I die! One thing I’m sure of, my kids and grandkids don’t want any of it…I’ve already asked them, several times!

Then there’s the Christian teaching that comes into play for me, adding a good measure of guilt, “…if you have two coats, give one to your sister who is in need”  and also when Jesus instructed followers to not “lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupts, but instead lay up treasure in heaven…” In other words, fill life full with compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, generosity, love…instead of material goods.

Defining or exposing the problem is easy. What to do about it is the real challenge.

Many years ago I helped a friend sort through her family home because her mother was unable to manage it any longer and had been admitted to a nursing home nearby. We sorted 50 years of accumulated stuff until we had left only what would fit into one small closet, one 6-drawer chest and a small 2-drawer desk in her mom’s new living space.

This experience was a powerful life lesson for me. I realized that life begins with nothing and ends with nothing, nothing of material value, that is.

I look around me now, in this Gran Finale stage of life, and wonder if I minimize the clutter, the excess, just keep what I need to live my life well, how much space would I create for the pursuit of what’s really important, the eternal spiritual (heavenly) stuff…the stuff about which I want my legacy to be?

If I minimize the clutter, and the care and concern of it, I most probably would have more energy to be more patient with those around me each day, have more time to be more intentional in showing love and giving compassion, and eliminate my preoccupation with tasks of maintenance, upkeep and organization.

We need very few material possessions. I learned from downsizing my friends mother that  less is more when life is truly simple… less to maintain, less responsibility, less burden, less complicated.

We often hear the cliche “Never settle for less”,  probably meant to encourage one’s self worth and aspirations to fulfill one’s dreams. Instead it gives encouragement to over endulge, spend more than we have, and/or be discontent with what we have. It’s a popular marketing slogan and has been used to feed a sense of privilege and entitlement.  “I deserve more”, “I’m worth more”, “I can have it all.”etc.

But for this Vibrant Old Woman, in the final chapter of my story, I’m settling for less! Clear the clutter! Make more room for the stuff that really counts.

How about you? What’s your take on “less is more” and clearing out the clutter?

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The Big Deal of Little Things

In the midst of adjusting to the joyful, yet somewhat bewildering, experience of leaving her very successful and meaningful career for “retirement”, Nora, a Vibrant Old Woman, related an interesting and life-changing exchange she had with her husband.

“You do such BIG things!”, he said to her, in such a manner that it caused her to pause and consider what exactly he meant and why it sounded like a not-so-complementary judgement.

“Yes”, she agreed “I do big things. I always have.”

But hearing the words out loud gave her the opportunity to consider this reality. Perhaps after enjoying a long successful career of doing “big things” she was trying to compete with her own standard, she thought.  Maybe this new stage of life requires something different.

The cliche “bring it down a notch” came to mind!

A new M.O. resulted:

“Now I’m focusing on just showing up, participating, being encouraging, and enjoying being with people. Not in charge, just being there. Nothing spectacular…just participating.” 

Going from being in charge to ‘just showing up’ and participating is not easy. In fact I’d say, that’s a BIG deal!

When we see the value in ‘just showing up’ and enjoy the experience for what it is instead of for the performance we give or the results we render, we begin to see past the material and the temporal, make room for surprise, and savor the little things in each moment.

Life reveals it’s own meaning when we give up the urge to make things happen big…like we used to do!

Success in the workplace is usually measured by reaching performance goals set by our job description, our supervisor or boss, or by out-performing the competition, and/or increasing the bottom line. It’s all about results and achievement, and meeting or surpassing expectations, performance reviews and evaluations.

Retirement, on the other hand, is all about no job description, no one noticing or checking our performance, no reports, no supervision, no reviews, no competition. It’s about freedom to set our own pace and choose our own way.

Each day holds little things and is willing to reveal their big deal:

The pleasure of a demitasse after a simple supper can make the evening feel special…just a little tastes so good!

Wearing a treasured string of pearls with everyday shirt and jeans can change feeling frumpy into feeling beautiful…just a touch of class.

Looking into the eyes of the person talking to me when I listen can change a brief impersonal encounter into a pleasurable and even memorable day-changer.

Having two hours to do the crossword puzzle without any pressures or interruptions can make an any-day feel like a great day!

Sometimes the all-you-can-eat mega buffet is thrilling and brilliant (especially if you’re a 15 year old growing boy!) BUT sometimes, especially at my age, it overstuffs and causes an uncomfortable feeling of heartburn and regret. (BTW this is a metaphor…nothing against mega-buffets!)

A small well-made entree, or even a tuna sandwich on a slice of fresh bread, served on my favorite plate is perfect satisfaction!

A little is a big deal when it is just enough.

I love the lines in a wonderful poem,When The To Do List Ends by Mike Essig, that speaks to this:    

Notice the glorious small things.

Seek joy in the ruins of the day.

Take the vital pulse of your soul.

Find the beauty in your heart…

 

What are the small things that are the BIG deals in your life? Why are they big deals to you? What adjustments have you made since leaving your career?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How I See Beauty in My Aging Body

“This is a difficult country to look too different in -the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krasser puts it-and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.

So! There I was at my local YWCA signing up for the Silver Sneakers Water Aerobics class and I admit I felt a slight intimidation.

I had been given the choice by my doctor to either begin exercising and lose a few pounds, or start medication to lower my blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It was not an easy choice.

The word exercise, in my mind, equels the four letter word, YUCK, (not too fond of sweat) and losing a few pounds means omitting delights like ice cream and cookies. But the thought of beginning medication doesn’t appeal either. I mostly don’t like to spend money on something that isn’t fun or beautiful, and don’t like to feel tied to a daily have-to (weird little personality quirks, I know, but I’m just being honest).

It was a nice-enough locker room but didn’t afford much privacy. I quickly found a corner where no one else was and where I felt I could undress unobtrusively. So I began. I had just figured out how to pull my swimsuit on without exposing my whole naked body at one time, when I turned my head just enough to catch a woman not far from me looking straight at me, her body stark naked, smiling broadly, saying, “Hi! Aren’t you new?”

I didn’t really want to look at her nakedness, but felt obligated to be cordial, so looked sideways while answering, “Yes, I am.”

She continued while she began pulling her suit up over her very white, plump and sagging body, “My name’s Carol (Not really Carol, but want to protect her innocence!) whats yours?”

“I’m Norah-with-an-H” I said smiling but looking away. I used a pseudonym to protect MY innocence!

“Glad you’re here. You’ll love it. It’s a great class!” she said and hurried off towards the pool.

Well, Carol was right. It was a great class. I did love it. And after the class, we all filed out towards the locker room. It was Carol who came alongside me and told me about the jacuzzi that some of the women take advantage of after the class. I decided to join them, just to warm up before dressing, and also to get to know a few of the women. There were five of us sitting in a semi circle in this jacuzzi that was in a nook that faced the changing area.

We hadn’t been seated long, when one woman began stripping her suit off while in the jacuzzi…no shyness, no hesitation. “Its easier to get off in the water than when my body’s dry,” she explained as I tried not to stare!

Then a couple of women appeared out of the shower area with towels, rubbing their wet hair while talking and walking towards the lockers…completely naked, completely at ease.

In fact, there was somewhat of a “Merry Month of May” exhibition going on right before my eyes: 70+ year old feminine bodies on parade.

I saw about a dozen different shapes and sizes. Floppy boobs, saggy butts, Buddha-bellies, scars and blemishes. There were no apologies. No shy attempts at cover-up. I saw only confidence and acceptance. The locker room was filled with an air of comradery, fun and exuberance. It was beautiful. It was comfortable. It made my heart smile!

I saw a new kind of beauty that day.

  • It was the beauty that comes from acceptance and the confidence that differences are valuable and comparisons and conformity unnecessary.
  • It was the beauty that comes from accepting life as it is with a sense of humor and enjoyment rather than judgement and condemnation.
  • It was the beauty that comes from the understanding that physical beauty is subjective and needs to be measured within the context of a life well-lived.

I’m still learning to see this new kind of beauty in myself. I often revert back to feeling insecure about my aging body, as if I should somehow be able to defy Nature and rise above wrinkles and age marks. But the group of Senior Sneakers, those Vibrant Old Women, opened the door for me to realize if we have lived 70+ years, we have a beauty all our own!

What I see when I see my aging body is a life-time of living a fully human existence:

  • I see a little girl who had polio, who fell from the cherry tree and broke her arm, who got her nose broken playing volleyball, who lived through measles, mumps and chicken pox.
  • I see a young lady who wore a perfect size 6 prom dress and wedding gown, could walk somewhat gracefully in 6″ spike heels, and who could eat ice cream everyday without gaining an ounce.
  • I see a  young woman who gave birth to 4 babies, breastfed 3 of them and nurtured all of them into adulthood.
  • I see a woman who moved more than 20 times and lived on two different continents and 4 different States.
  • I see a woman who has lived 70 full years,(that’s  25,550 days), been a baby, a child, a teenager, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an employee, a retiree.

My body has changed. My body is changing. It’s beautiful when I look at it with humor, make no comparisons to how I once looked or to anyone else, and remember that the lines, wrinkles, sags and blemishes are all signs of a life well-lived.

What do you see when you see your aging body?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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