For quite some time I have been researching aging. I’ve been meeting on occasion with a wonderful group of women to discuss a few books about growing old and what that entails for our parents and friends and, let’s face it, ourselves. It is not a pretty picture. Added to that there have been a number of friends and family battling cancer and so I have been doing some reading on that front too.
As I’m finding it difficult to keep on an even keel as I delve into these topics, it is not lost on me what a tremendous effort it is for those in the thick of the fight. This came to mind as I finished reading the book “Her-2″ by Robert Bazell about the development of the breast cancer fighting drug Herceptin. While the book documented beautifully the long, twisted process of getting the drug into distribution, it also told the tales of many women who fought the fight against a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Some are winning that fight…most have lost. And those who are winning are never free to assume they will not be called to battle the disease anew.
The revelation for me was that somehow I had been convinced that breast cancer is no longer a death sentence but had completely missed the critical fact that it is, in fact, a life sentence.
My task as daughter, sister, mother and friend is to find a way to support and encourage without losing hope or shying away from the hard truths. Mercy, I cry. Mercy.
I haven’t been doing many structured photo shoots. It has been a relief, frankly…they are a lot of work and stress! But I had to do Genevieve’s senior photos. She follows her older brother Chris and it makes me feel old to know she, too, will be a college student. She’s a lover of water. Ocean, lake or river, she is drawn to it. So of course we went to the Monterey Bay to take photographs.
But first we had to stop to take an image behind a certain Santa Cruz bar where I first took a picture of Chris. It was meant to loosen him up as he was a shy subject plus it was a fun location. It was Gen’s idea to take a similar photo…thinking it would be cool to do so with her younger siblings as they graduate and have a line-up on the wall. GREAT idea, I thought (there are five more kids, folks, the youngest being in kindergarten which will make me HOW old when we take that last photo??).
We moved on to the ocean and were able to get some beautiful shots. I happen to like to take senior photos that showcase the place where the person lives, along with those important close-ups, and it is hard to beat our locations.
We ended our shoot after sunset, trying to take some sparkler photos. I’d suggested to Genevieve that she practice writing 2015 backwards for the attempt…and our results were hilarious. Finally, we ended with our dizzy assistant, Cassie, running circles around a laughing Gen. A perfect, if somewhat unsuccessful, way to end the day.
The last hurrah.
I’d lost my marbles and this time I hadn’t even realized it. My vacuuming muscles, you see, are particularly weak right now from lack of use. So when I tackled the living room and decided to hazard a look behind the couches I discovered buried treasure. Marbles! Even a long-lost hot wheel car. And dust, plenty of dust. I’m ashamed to say I even discovered an empty bag of Reese’s Pieces…hmmm, was that Son #1 or Son #2?
There were enough stray marbles to cover several gatherings. My family heirloom, beloved brother-in-law made marble rack is a hands down favorite for any and all small and not-so-small children visiting. This is often the first thing said to me when they arrive: “Can we play with your marbles?!” “Well, hello to you too…and my marbles are available for play!”
Three hours later, I stowed the vacuum in the hall closet feeling virtuous, knowing the clutter was gone from behind my furniture and my marbles were safely contained, if only for a little while.
I awoke today to raindrops plunking on the metal roof of my house. Too sporadic to be steady, just a gentle sound of the hope of goods things to come. Lord knows we need rain–buckets and buckets of river and reservoir filling buckets of it. This is not one of those kinds of rains, but it is welcomed all the same. This kind of rain, to the ears of someone who lives in the hills outside of Santa Cruz, produces no anxious thoughts of fallen trees or blocked waterways. Just dripping colored leaves and yet another reason to read.
A walk yesterday along the ocean gave hints of the weather change, confirmed in conversation later with a friend.
The sky and clouds were washed in dull blues and grays, the thin horizon line holding a hint of sunlight. It was perfect walking weather. I spent my time enjoying the clouds and sending up good thoughts and prayers for family and friends struggling with challenges to health and heart. Such a long list of suffering, giving me so many opportunities to remember my dear ones. Sometimes it is the one thing we can do: keep up the knocking. Still here, remember?
A bonus of a dull sky above can be deep rich colors below. I found vivid greens as I walked along the cliffs, ocean slime and ice plant. It was beautiful and I added prayers of thanksgiving to my loud knocking.
A familiar bible story about Mary and Martha has their friend, Jesus, visiting their home. I like this picture very much–oh, to have a home Christ Himself would finding relaxing and welcoming. Hospitable Martha busies herself with cleaning, dinner preparations and serving while Mary sits at the feet of Christ and absorbs His words and soaks in His presence. Finally, frustrated with being left to do all the work, Martha implores Jesus to tell her sister to help. Who hasn’t felt like this? Who hasn’t related, totally, to Martha’s plea?
When, many years ago, I converted to Orthodox Christianity, it was encouraged to find a saint with whom one could relate and even entreat for help in time of need. Being a person who likes to entertain groups large and small, I thought of Martha. Many times I end an evening, guests gone…dishes finally done, and sink into a chair wondering about the effort. And still it seems worth it, even if I do grump a bit now and then. Surely that is permissable? Ah, Martha, Martha, Martha.
We once hosted a family from England in our home. Somehow the story of Mary and Martha came up and I laughed about my love for poor beleaguered Martha and the bad rap I thought she got. The husband informed me that she is much loved–as much as Mary–in England. They are two sides of the coin, he said. Both necessary, both beloved by the Lord. Martha’s problem, you see, was not in her gift of hospitality. Oh no, the problem was her judgement of Mary and her grumpiness. That’s what spoiled her gift that day. After all, the meal did need to be made and served and the guests did need to be welcomed and cared for.
Ah, Martha, Martha, Martha. A work in process. No wonder I like her so much.
Standing in line at the grocery store with a pumpkin to decorate my door, some wine and ingredients for an upcoming dinner with friends, I waited for the woman in front of me to pay.
She was paying with pre-loaded government issued cards and she struggled to swipe each one of the four she had. “Ten dollars on this one”, the clerk said. “A dollar eighty-three on that one.” In the end, she came up short and began the painstaking process of removing items from her bag. Out came the instant coffee and the hamburger. Not enough. Next came the paper towels…until finally she was only 20 cents short. The clerk told her she’d cover it. The woman turned back to me and apologized for the wait.
As I paid for my unnecessary pumpkin, wine and dinner party items, I felt crummy and sad. I often gripe to myself about my finances and I felt shamed. Shamed that I gripe and shamed that I hadn’t had the presence of mind to pay for the poor woman’s hamburger and coffee (only later in my car did this thought occur to me), and shamed that we do not care for our neighbors in a more loving and concrete way.
Arriving home I placed my pumpkin beside my door and carried my bags inside to put my bounty away. Next time, I thought, I vow to be more present.
Yesterday I got The Call. No, not that call. Not the call telling me Mom had died, thank goodness. The Call about her falling and this time actually breaking her left hip. My sister Pam’s voice transferred her grave concern to me and my mind raced to what this would mean. For Mom, and for my sisters and brother-in-law who live near.
For it will certainly mean a shift in many things. Research and common observation holds that this kind of injury is most often a very large step downward for seniors. Just enduring the effects of surgery and the strain of the hospital stay is disorienting. For a slow healer like my mother it remains to be seen how she will fare. Returning her to the nursing home where she fell means trusting in the staff to be able to give her the kind of care she needs–not easy for us or for them.
The surgery did go well. My mother does sound alright today…at least no worse that usual. My sister is keeping vigil and making sure, as always, that mom is getting the best care available. That is a great deal to be thankful for after getting The Call.
Looking down from the bridge at the depleted waters of the San Lorenzo River, I see reflections. Reflections of sky and tree…and as I stare two ducks come gliding into view. The parting of the water reminds me of their flight patterns, which in turn reminds me of the season. It’s time to fly. For the ducks, time to fly south as their internal clocks begin to nudge them to warmer climes.
Flight is also on my mind regarding my oldest son. He is winging his way east (by land–no wings to fly, pity) after finishing up and clearing out and tossing out and working his way through his list of must dos. He is drawn to this change of season too.
With no clear end plan, he is embarking on this trip–a one way ticket to his future is how I choose to frame it. Sometimes, just sometimes, leaving is the best way to find one’s way. I hope this is so for him and I send him with love and all the blessings I can gather. Staying in place and doing the mundane things that routine requires is always difficult when someone you love is off on adventure. My task is to focus and concentrate on what the changing season brings to me. Right here. Right now.
Enough of that grumpiness in my last post. For the record, though, I am a very kind and polite traveler even when frustrated. Does that count?
How about these apples? Picked today in my orchard. Organic and abundant. Every year I put out the call to friends and every year I still end up with loads and loads of apples left in the old trees. I refuse to feel guilty…I offer. And what is left is happily munched by the herd of deer that populate the property after I shake them down as they begin to go soft.
I love the colors of this fruit as much as the fruit itself. What a delight to the eye, on the tree and off. I love to polish one up on my jeans, warm from the afternoon sun, and take a big bite. Hear the crunch, feel the juice run down my chin, taste the tart sweetness as I chew. I visited a few splendid apple orchards while I was in Illinois, but there is nothing quite like walking down the hill just to reach up and grab one.
In a couple of days I will enter the last year of a decade I have affectionally called the “f-u-fifites”. It has been a roller coaster of a decade and reaching the end brings no particular comfort. I mention this simply to admit to this: I am not young. So, when on my recent trip to Illinois and Quebec, I found myself simmering with annoyance at “old people” I was a bit shocked. I have to admit it–I’m biased against old people when I travel.
Boarding the smaller plane leaving Quebec I looked over the snowy heads dominating the view with frustration. They were slow. They were absent-minded. They were, many of them, heavy and thus having a hard time manuevering in the tight spaces and seats. They were confused about their carry-on luggage and their seat assignments. Full disclosure about those “snowy” heads…I am one of them but for my visits to my stylist. So what is wrong with me?! How could I pass judgement on this group of people, many of whom are close to my own age?
I have a hard time answering that. It makes me want to scream or disassociate or stay home. As I endured (that is the correct word) the pains of air travel, I mused that someone could make some serious money by creating airlines tailored to specific age groups. For younger flyers, a fast paced ride, excellent connectivity to the internet and beyond, great sound, movies…perhaps a fitness component, good food. For aging boomers and older, perhaps a luxury ride, but relaxed…wider seats and lots of leg room, plenty of time between connections, good food. Families with kids? Kid entertainment, kid food, kid-loving flight attendants.
I can dream, even as I know that I would likely end up in the cattle car version…the catch all for everyone unwilling or unable to pay for the upgrades. Wanting to scream, or disassociate or stay home.