Don’t spit in the wind

My mother always used the expression, “Don’t spit in the wind, it might change direction”, or “Don’t dirty the water, you might find yourself needing a drink” and aside from the mess you’d encounter on your face, or the polluting of your own waters, the general message is one of warning, and the basic gist is what you do will come back to you.

Now that’s not a bad thing if you do a good turn,,,who wouldn’t want a little of that back? Unfortunately this is a two way street so the rules apply to any action you might take. In fact, it’s interesting to note the events and/or people who seem to come full circle in our lives because there are many,,,,, and they do.

My husband grew up literally within yards of his cousins but aside from family occasions rarely saw them. Over the next twenty plus years all married and moved to various parts of the world never giving the other any thought, after all, they had little contact when living just down the street from each other all of their young lives. Interestingly enough the eldest of his cousins moved to eastern Canada and three years later we were relocated to the same place reacquainting a kinship long forgotten and launching a long term friendship. This isn’t coincidence; these cousins were meant to reconnect. It just wasn’t time until then, and it’s a good thing they never quarreled as kids cause that would’ve made it akward.

I have a friend from high school (many years ago) from whom I drifted. There was no reason, we simply went in different directions in life, losing our common ground, which at the time was high school. We both married, had children and lived in separate parts of the country, and in the thirty years we’ve been apart we’ve only seen each other once but we correspond every year over the holidays to catch the other up and when we do it’s like we’ve never been apart. We have little in common so it seems an unlikely friendship and yet it endures. It’s hard to know why some people are in our lives or for how long they’ll stay. It only matters that they are there when they are there, because that is the right time and it is of mutual benefit.

That childhood playmate who reappears in your adult life in an unlikely place or situation, rekindling an old friendship, or that old sweetheart you bump surprisingly into after you’d both gone separate ways. Maybe you find you are both again available and the relationship makes more sense at this point in your life. These chance encounters aren’t chance at all. People come and go in your life, some returning repeatedly, and too often you find yourself forging meaningful relationships with the unlikeliest of friends because you’ve evolved and changed, as have they. This is the point when you’re grateful you didn’t ‘burn any bridges’ in your impetuous youth! (especially if one of these people from your past returns as your boss!) 

I suppose you could spin this warning any way but the end result is the same; you reap what you sow, good or bad. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated and accept that those who come into your life are there for a reason. Don’t try to rationalize it, just glean what you can from the encounter and be grateful for the lesson.

Dont spit in the wind

The Colonoscopy

My husbands family history includes numerous colon issues so as a precaution each family member is required to undergo testing every five years as a preventive measure via a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a flexible fiber-optic instrument is inserted through the anus in order to examine the colon. (aka, they shove a hose up your arse and blast your innards with air)

In preparation for this procedure the patient must scale back their food intake for several days before to ensure the bowel and colon are cleared for testing. Three weeks ago my husband received a letter advising of his testing scheduled for this week and he took it like a man. (actually he sobbed all the way back from the mailbox)

Four days ago the fasting started, no fruit or vegetables, no nuts or seeds. Three days ago he had to cut out alcohol and any foods with a red pigment. Two days ago he had to revert to a ‘light’ diet’ i.e., no beef, no dairy. The day before the procedure he had to fast completely. He took to his bed, weak from hunger. At one point a friend called and I heard my husband decline their lunch invitation because he was afraid he might be anorexic.

That evening he had to drink a prescribed liquid that would further ‘clear out any solids’ in his system (it would, as we discovered, blow the crap out of him, literally!) His procedure was scheduled for early the next morning but we both spent a sleepless night; I, afraid we’d miss our alarm, and he having to dash to the washroom every 5 minutes.

Finally the big day came. I had a lovely breakfast of bacon, eggs, coffee and a fresh fruit salad (not my arse they’re blasting, why should I starve?) My husband dressed grudgingly, his mood morose. We got in to the car for the half hour drive to the hospital and more than once I could swear I heard whimpering. (that’s my he-man, I proudly thought!) Now I’m not completely without sympathy….such internal ‘exploration’ is humbling, and I did feel for his nervousness. On the other hand last week when I asked him to vacuum he didn’t do it, so maybe this is God’s way of evening things up for me. Either way, I’m ok with it!

We checked in at the hospital and were escorted to a small waiting room where a few other patients sat all looking as uncomfortable as my husband, except of course those of us who were their drivers. It was easy to spot us, we were smiling. I noted the patients kept shifting uncomfortably in their seats, as though anticipating what was to come. (I couldn’t help but smile) After a brief wait (and several more trips to the washroom) my husband was taken in for the procedure. He was as pale as a ghost and turned pleadingly to me as the nurse ushered him away. Poor guy….anyway,  I got myself a coffee, pulled out a good book and settled in for a nice relaxing break.

Two hours later a nurse called me in. The procedure was complete and they were happy to advise they found little of consequence. He would not need another colonoscopy for five years. They sent us off with a list of instructions; he was to ‘take it easy’ for the next few days. (are you kidding? that’s his whole life) They also advised that his system would need to ‘expel’ the excess air in order to return to normal function. (makes sense, what goes in must come out) We headed to the parking lot, my husband with a notable spring in his step, serenading me with a symphony of ‘sounds’.

By the time we got home he was ravenous. He had two grilled cheese sandwiches, a pile of french fries, a cup of coffee and two cookies (apparently this particular form of ‘anorexia’ was fleeting) He then went up to lay down because the hospital did advise he should ‘take it easy’ for a few days. (ok, are we pushing it here?)

I had a number of household chores to complete (I had fallen behind when I had to care for my convalescing spouse just in his anticipation of illness) and a little help would be nice. It was a lovely spring like day and I suggested he wash the car. It was heavily soiled from the winter weather and the task was light enough to avoid strain while giving him much needed fresh air. He grumbled and moaned a little and as he mustered up his speech of refusal I said, “Hey, I just realized, we don’t need to go to the hospital for this procedure next time. I think I can figure out how to do it right in the comfort of our home”, as I lovingly unraveled the garden hose.

Boy, did he clean that car!

man with toilet paper

 

I’m still standing

I attended a party last night for a golfing buddy of my husbands. It was a birthday party and his chosen theme for the party was “I’m still standing”, (Elton John’s popular hit song) but this was by no means a typical birthday party. In fact, the celebration really was about his ‘still standing’.

This fellow is in his mid-fifties. He has a successful business, is happily married to a lovely woman and has no children. He has a gregarious personality and a natural warmth that invites a broad circle of friends. By all accounts he has it all.

Three years ago he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, a glioblastoma, the very same that took the life of popular musician Gord Downey. He has endured several surgical attempts to thwart the progression of this aggressive cancer but to no avail. It is quite simply, terminal.

Now a terminal diagnosis such as this is devastating news to anyone and we could accept any reaction, anger, fear, depression. What is so remarkable in this case is the stoic and dignified way this fellow has chosen to deal with it. He is nothing short of inspirational.

His birthday party was exactly what it should be, a celebration of life. He happily held court in a circle of friends, laughing and telling jokes. If you didn’t know how seriously ill he was you’d never guess – he was animated and quite literally living in the moment and you had to keep reminding yourself that this may well be the last birthday celebration. A sobering thought for anyone, and yet he was smiling. Hard to fathom.

He could’ve shut himself away from the world and awaited the inevitable but instead he has taken control of his remaining time and made the most of it. He made a sizeable donation to a local hospital and has rallied for public awareness in relation to brain tumor research. He has traveled with his wife, maintains an active social life and still plays a respectable game of golf. In short he is still living. He recently sold his business and is now planning his funeral – he wants to leave no burden for his loved ones.

There’s something very special about this man. The humble acceptance of his diagnosis fueled his determination to fight the illness until it was obvious he was losing the battle, and then he simply channeled that same energy into making the most of his remaining time. You can’t help but admire that kind of courage and this gathering has served to remind us all that life is truly fleeting. We’ve no idea how long we’ll be here so it’s important to make every moment count. This man certainly has, most admirably.

Happy birthday dear friend, and thank you for reminding us of how to live with grace and die with dignity. We will only ever see you as ‘still standing’.

Tree of life

Those I admire

Maybe it’s just age but I find myself ‘seeing’ people more clearly these days and with that ‘seeing’ comes a new appreciation for the traits they possess. The traits I admire. The traits I took for granted in my youth. The very traits that now invite me,,,no compel me to want to spend more time with them.

The woman who tirelessly cared for her children and aging parents, all while holding down full time employment and acting as matriarch because she had the strength to do so. People naturally trust her advice, seek her opinion and take comfort in her guidance because she is level headed and sees both sides of every situation. She must be weary, yet she never turns away a friend in need even when it takes away another piece of her. From you I learned commitment and endurance and generosity of spirit.

The man who adores his family, all of them. He sees no flaws, reveling in the joy each brings into his life. He is of simple means and humble desires, satisfied with whatever life gives him. There’s no greed, no jealousy; he is just grateful for all that he has and considers himself among the ‘rich’ in life. I have never heard this man say an unkind word about another and that’s what I find most remarkable because I’ve never known anyone so forgiving, so accepting. Few of us in society bite our tongue when we probably should – this man actually does and it’s likely why so many gravitate to him because in his company they know they will never be judged. From you I learned acceptance and tolerance and gratitude.

The woman who leans heavily on her faith oblivious to the reactions of others. She is steadfast in her beliefs and incorporates them in every aspect of her life without imposing her mantra on others. She is the victim of gentle ribbing, even criticism, as a result, but she manages to deflect any negativity gently and with love. Her motto is not ‘do as I say’ rather it’s, ‘this is what I think and I respect your right to your beliefs’. From you I learned courage and what it is to follow our hearts.

The young woman who keenly feels the pain or suffering of others. She cries too easily, yet manages to muster up courage in the face of adversity. She loves wholly and unselfishly, wearing her heart on her sleeve. She bears a wisdom that can only come from a loving and generous heart and yet her obvious naiveté makes her vulnerable to the unkindness of others. She has a gift for working with children and animals, on any level, and they in turn, adore her. Her soul is pure and gentle and kind and your first instinct is to offer her protection from the harshness of life. She is nothing short of an angel in earth and she has taught me unconditional love and innocence, in its’ truest form.

If any of these descriptions ring true, perhaps you are seeing snippets of yourself because it is my circle of friends and family I based this on. (if you do not see anything familiar here you’re likely one of those negative types I try to avoid – life is too short) These people, you and many others, have taught me some very valuable life lessons; lessons I should’ve learned long ago but I was not open to their message. I was not receptive to this type of learning, not then. Maturity has given me focus and an understanding of what really matters in life.

Interestingly enough these individuals are also those I consider the most fun. They have fresh and spontaneous personalities and they are among the few who can still make me laugh out loud. Who wouldn’t want to be around someone like that? They are my inspiration and not a day goes by that I don’t give thanks that they are in my life.

So I guess I admire you for all the wonderful qualities I want to emulate because those are the traits the world needs more of; commitment, endurance, generosity of spirit, acceptance, tolerance, gratitude, courage, unconditional love, and innocence. Throw in a boisterous sense of humour and you have the stuff life long relationships are made of….what a gift!

Man, I really am turning into a mushy old lady!

the people in my life    old lady with hanky

The Doctor’s Appointment

My elderly father recently had cataract surgery on one eye and the experience of that appointment and those before and after it were a sobering confirmation of the sad state of health care and our treatment of the elderly.

My father lives in Ontario in a seniors residence that allows him some independence while still under the watchful eye of fellow residents who look out for each other. I live in another province halfway across the country so it falls on my sister to attend to any needs my father has outside his home, and it’s a lucky thing she’s there because the medical system makes no allowances for the elderly. In fact, it seems they go out of their way to make it difficult for them. Maybe it’s an attempt to confuse and frustrate them to the extent that they simply forgo any medical treatment because it’s too hard.

The days leading up to this minor laser surgery were riddled with various appointments; one to ‘measure his eye’, another to test his heart, a third to do routine blood work, not to mention the routine eye exams performed in the weeks leading up to the day by countless staff, (each billing the medical system for their share ) just to make sure everyone was ‘on the same page’. No single appointment was conveniently located; rather each was to be held at various departments within a couple of downtown hospitals, where parking is at a premium, if you can find it at all, and the appointments offered were at peak rush hour, 7am or 5pm (for seniors, really?). My father was lucky (my sister not so much) because he had my sister to drive him. Other seniors were forced to take public transit or taxi’s, if they could afford them. And no appointment was less than 2-4 hours late so you had to plan to spend the day.

The day of surgery my father was instructed to be at the hospital by 6:00 in the morning and it’s a good thing he was on time because he only had to wait 41/2 hours to be seen. In the interim he was herded from waiting room to waiting room where seemingly busy administrative staff assured him the ‘doctor would be in to see him shortly’. The hospital is large, like a city unto itself, and each new waiting area they were ushered to was a good walk. My father is 88 years old and in frail health so by late afternoon he was exhausted and limping, but he was not alone because each waiting room was full of seniors like himself (who else needs cataract surgery if not seniors?) and many had no one to advocate for them. They made their way in walkers and with canes; some got confused and went to the wrong waiting areas. Several were booked for the same appointment time with the same doctor (ok, how does that work?) At the end of the day, my fathers surgery was complete and he was released into my sisters care, a mere 13 hours after they arrived. At least by then his limp was so visible he was offered a wheel chair to take him to the front door where he was unceremoniously deposited with a bag of medication and a list of follow up appointments.

One of the three follow up appointments was last week and I planned to attend while visiting. We picked my father up at noon for his 1:00 appointment – it was just up the road but he is unable to walk any distance so we drove. We arrived at 12:20. The waiting area had dozens of chairs and there was only a handful of people waiting. As I approached the reception area to check in a young woman looked up and asked if we were there for an afternoon appointment (no hello, just a hasty question) I said yes and before I could continue she replied, “We’re closed for lunch until 1:00. You’ll have to go somewhere” and she literally ushered us out into the hallway and closed the door behind us. (so I guess letting an old man sit while he waited was too much to ask)

Remembering I’d seen a sign in the lobby for a restaurant we decided to take my father there for tea and a snack to kill some time. At ten minutes to one we went back up and when the elevator opened we were greeted with a line up of seniors, all waiting for the office to open, all standing, not easily. Conversation started up and we discovered there was at least two other people with the same appointment time as us – so much for getting in and out in under four hours.

By five minutes after one and seeing some of these elderly were having trouble standing for long periods my sister pounded on the door. It was opened by the same jolly greeter I had previously encountered, and she said nothing, simply opened the door and stepped aside. While my sister waited to register my father I saw a middle aged man rapidly approach the receptionist. He said, “I’ll be back in a while”. She smiled, nodded, and returned to registering the patients at the counter. Now this minor encounter would be of no significance were it not for the fact this same middle aged man was in fact the doctor. It was 1:05. He had a waiting room full of very elderly patients, many with the same 1:00 appointment booking, and he was leaving. He returned 45 minutes later with a Starbucks coffee and a healthy glow that suggested fresh air.

In that 45 minute period we were herded from room to room and attended to by a variety of support staff. One checked the spelling of my fathers name and birthdate to confirm it was really him. (yeah, cause I bet there’s a host of seniors lining up to impersonate him) Another directed him into a semi dark room where he quickly tested the pressure in his eye, then ushered him hastily back out to another waiting area. A third, a young woman, led him into a cubicle where she instructed him to sit in an awkward chair, then turned her back to him for several minutes while she typed away on a computer. She then spun around, looked into his eye with some sort of lens, declared him healing nicely, and asked him to return to the waiting room to await the doctor (the one with the healthy glow and fresh coffee) This really was a meat market.

After another 30 minutes, we were finally ushered into a room where the doctor eventually showed up. (yes, we had to wait, again, cause nothing spells inconsiderate like a tardy doctor) He looked into my fathers eye, without any equipment, just a look, asked if he’d been administering the drops prescribed, to which my father replied in the affirmative, then said,  Good, I’ll see you in three weeks”, then rose to leave, dismissing us with a wave of his hand. (Now there are those who might forgive the arrogance of this kind of delicate genius citing they are a cut above the rest of us because they possess a higher education that entitles them to look down at others; after all an arrogant person is only smart around those who are made to feel stupid. Some might even label these insensitive louts as justified for their shoddy treatment of others. I prefer to label them ‘arseholes’.) 

I can appreciate that doctors, nurses, and technicians are highly skilled. They are in demand, perhaps too much, I get that. We are a growing population, the elderly in particular comprise a larger number of those requiring health care because we are living longer, but that does not give anyone, not even Doctor Specialist  the right to treat people this way. Society has a need, these people have the skills. Too bad they don’t have any compassion. I realize we can’t paint every medical professional with the same brush but the experience above is not unique. Twenty years ago when I needed minor surgery I recall this process of herding people like cattle. I remember endless wait times, double bookings, and disinterested support staff. What ever happened to the Hippocratic Oath? In addition to the stipulation of upholding specific ethical standards, there is the provision for Duty of Care (defined simply as a legal obligation to always act in the best interest of others) Surely that includes compassion, if nothing else, how about common courtesy? Oh, and here’s a thought, how about respecting our elders?

There are wonderful caring and compassionate professionals in the medical industry, of that I’ve no doubt. My own family doctor is amazing, sincere and dedicated. Unfortunately there’s also too many arrogant, self-serving, egotistical arseholes (for lack of a more fitting description) out there, who have lost sight of what it truly means to uphold the office of a medical professional. They overbook, double bill, and sadly overlook how their callous treatment of people affects society. In short, they do not respect others.

If you truly went into this profession for the healing of mankind, good for you. If you went into it for the money and prestige it brings, shame on you.  I can only hope you are one day on the receiving end of the heartless treatment you’ve subjected these elderly to. Get over yourself.

Super Doctor

Do we learn from past mistakes?

My 88 year old father was one of many who ran from, and survived, World War II, and for the past several months I’ve been working with him to document his family’s flight from Lithuania. This required me to do some research on the generalities of this war; dates, places, etc, to ensure my father’s recollection coincided with historical facts, and I must say, it was an eye opener.

As students growing up we all studied history as it related to our country and our people but somehow, at least for me, they were just words on a page, a story. Until I could relate it to someone I knew I didn’t fully comprehend what they actually went through. It was sobering and sad, often painful, and always unsettling.

Once I completed his memoirs, I decided I needed a break from the tragedy of war time stories so I went to the library and took out a book to lighten my mood. I tend to choose books by their cover and I’ve only rarely been disappointed so this method of selection was one I used again this time. Much to my surprise when I started reading I discovered the book was about a 93 year old woman recounting her experience in this same war. She was of similar age and her story rang so familiar. I debated returning it because I’d had enough of painful war stories but once I started to read I found I couldn’t put it down. It reinforced again, the suffering endured by too many during war time, and the impact it had on their whole life.

It was beautifully written and once I finished it I found myself wondering how something like war, any war, can happen, again, and again, and again. Did World War 1 teach us nothing? For that matter, did we learn anything from any war? Throughout the ages we’ve encountered countless dictators and ruthless leaders, many of whose patterns of destruction were repeated.

For example, in the year 247 BC Qin Shi Huang ruled as the first emperor of the China. He was a ruthless and single minded ruler who commissioned the construction of a wall to protect his dynasty. (Granted he didn’t hold his own people in financial ‘hostage’ to enlist their cooperation – he just forced them into labour and worked them to death)  Sound like anybody we know today? (what  is it with these power hungry leaders and their walls?)

Wars of religion, or trade, or acquisition have replayed since the beginning of time. From the early days of Viking invasions to modern day revolutions the pattern repeats itself. Power hungry rulers brainwash or overpower citizens, forcing them to ‘cleanse’ their world of those they want to dominate or deem unworthy of existence, and they succeed only long enough to severely cripple humanity for decades to come.

We’ve evolved as a society in so many ways with advancement in industry, technology, and philosophy. We have fine-tuned our brain capacity to act in an intelligent, conscious, and moral fashion, but when it comes to conflict in the masses we resort to school yard bullying behaviours. How can we call ourselves the intelligent species when we don’t learn from past mistakes?

I realize this is simply my naïve struggle with something I fear will never change. As long as there is man, there is conflict, and it seems we will never learn that no resolution ever comes from conflict. It appears we are destined to repeat destructive patterns. We acknowledge our mistakes, after the fact, and we might even ‘learn’ from them, but if we don’t put into practice that which we ‘learn’ how can we say that we have, as a civilized society, progressed? I  will never, ever, understand the wisdom of war. Peace be with us all.

 

world peace

A Day of Love

St Valentine’s Day is approaching and retailers are gearing up for major sales. Restaurants are almost fully booked, florists and jewelers are overwhelmed with orders, and chocolatiers are working overtime to stack their shelves with heart shaped boxes filled with sweets. The Christmas holiday aside, more cards are sent for St Valentine’s Day than any other holiday in the year. It is, after all, the day for ‘lovers’ right? Not quite,,,,at least it didn’t start out in the mushy romantic sense in which we’ve come to know it. In fact, there no official documented theories around the origin of this day.

There are however, several ‘stories’ as to how it came about and none are pretty. The ancient Romans celebrated the ‘feast of Lupercalia’. This was the celebration of purification and fertility, held annually on February 13-15. The men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, skinning them, then using the bloodied hides to whip women. (boy, those Romans sure know how to party!)  It was believed that this ritual would make the women more fertile. So strong was this belief that the women actually lined up in the streets to have the men belt them. (ok, these are not bright women)

Another legend contends that Valentine was a catholic priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families so he outlawed marriage for all young men to maintain his force. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the law defied Claudius by performing marriages in secret for young lovers. When his activities were discovered he was put to death. He was one of three saints by this name who were martyred. The other two weren’t quite as romantic in their feats, rather they displayed various acts of heroism in celebration of the day. (still, having to marry in secret is lot easier to take than getting slapped around with a bloody hide)

Another theory stems from Europe in the Middle Ages where it was believed that February 14 was the beginning of the birds’ mating season, adding to the notion that the day should be reserved for romance of all species. (ok, that’s a bit of a stretch. I can’t ever recall getting amorous from watching a bunch of birds, but to each his own)

Regardless of where the actual holiday originated the general theme was one of love, and by the middle of the 18th century the practice of exchanging tokens of affection on this date was common between friends and lovers. It’s only modern society (and greedy retailers) that turned the holiday into the circus it is today where ‘small tokens’ have become new cars, 3 carat diamonds, and 10 pound boxes of chocolate, but the commercialism aside, I take issue with the notion that the day should only be celebrated by lovers, the romantic kind.

There’s a whole world of single people who love and are loved but because the nature of these relationships isn’t ‘romantic’ they aren’t included in the celebration. They aren’t the target audience of retailers, i.e. florists aren’t advertising that you should send a bouquet of roses to your sister, and yet, what’s wrong with that? Everyone likes to be reminded that they are loved, even by friends or family. Even something as simple as buying a cup of coffee for a buddy at work with a “Happy Valentine’s Day’ message is sure to bring a smile and let someone know they are loved and appreciated.

For too many this holiday is difficult to get through, not unlike Christmas, because not everyone has a close circle of family and friends with whom to celebrate. I say we revamp this holiday to include everyone in society. Let’s celebrate the love not just the romance. Surely for one day a year everyone deserves to feel as though they are special to someone? Send your dear friend a note, send chocolates or flowers, if you feel compelled to, just go out of your way on this one day to make someone feel as though this day of love and appreciation is for them as much as it is anyone else.

I hope you are showered with love on this day, from all who know you,,,,, then spread it around. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentines day

A Dreary Day

I awoke on a Monday morning to drizzle and fog – another do nothing day, or so I thought. I had an early morning physiotherapy appointment so lounging about wasn’t an option. I showered, ate a light breakfast and headed out the door. Once on the road I got a burst of energy and decided to make good use of this otherwise dreary day, so when I reached my appointment I sent a text to my very good friend Jo to see if she was up to meet for coffee. This is the same friend I continuously start my diet with – too date neither of us has lost a pound, but we sure plan a lot!

After my physio appointment, I check my messages and see she’s agreed to meet in half an hour for coffee. I make my way over to the coffee house and note I’m a little early, so I shop on route – no sense wasting time! By the time we meet I’ve already got a new pair of shoes and two sweaters – Jo reprimands me for my lack of self-control.  (ok, she’s not that good a friend, really)

We buy our coffee and settle for a good chat and the conversation invariably returns to our dieting woes. We decide that a new year deserves a new plan. I suggest that we change up our routine, maybe take a yoga course to motivate us, and she’s on board! Jo also suggests that we meet a couple of times a week to walk for the exercise. I remind her that we walk fairly frequently already but she’s quick to point out that wandering the shops for sales is not technically exercise so I grudgingly agree to a twice weekly walk outdoors. (killjoy – She’s really more like the friend of a friend)

New plan in hand we decide we need to get new workout wear and head to the local shops. After two hours of trying on every form of spandex available, we head to a nice Greek restaurant for lunch this planning an exercise regimen really works up the appetite.

While inhaling our food the conversation moves to other activities we can enjoy to fill our days (and keep us away from the fridge) Jo admits to a love of music and suggests we join a choir. I agree that it’s a great idea, but most of the singing groups I know of are church choirs or seniors. Jo and I are retired but only newly so, and we’re on the younger side of retirement so I don’t see the appeal in joining a group of eighty year olds that warble like old hens, and I tell her as much. “We’ll start our own singing group” she announces, then reprimands me for my less than flattering description of ‘elderly singers’. She’s always harping on me about being too direct, but honestly, have you listened to a choir of seniors trying to croak out a tune? It’s not like the gentle sound of a songbirds trill or the melodious tones of a childrens choir. This is the ghastly sounds emitted from aged throats and a rusty voice box  – hardly the stuff current radio stations are tuning in. (I barely know her actually, she’s just an acquaintance really)

I suggest we start a book club – that would be fun. I can think of a few people we could invite, meet once every couple of weeks to discuss the book. My only stipulation is that I get to pick the books cause if I don’t like it, I won’t read it. No history, no politics, no drama, no sci-fi, no mysteries. I just like happy stories, comedy, romance, biography (only happy ones)   “Ok, this could be a problem” Jo says, “you need to be a little more flexible”. (Bitch, I never really liked her)

Jo suddenly lights up and excitedly suggests we join a bowling league! Her elderly mother bowls twice a week and loves it, she gushes, and we’d get to wear those cute little bowling shirts! (sure thing Wilma, and maybe we can get Fred and Barney to lend us their bowling bags) I think I’d rather warble with the hens. (What was I thinking befriending this loon?)

We explore various potential new hobbies throughout lunch and after a good round of laughter we determine it’s best to take small steps. We’ll meet to walk twice a week (no stores, no shopping, no lunch – this seems to be cruel and unusual punishment, but ok) and we’ll scout out a good yoga studio to enroll in some beginners classes. After lunch we continue our shopping cause if we’re going to act fit we’d better look it! Finally with matching spandex outfits sure to impress, we stumble across a lovely leopard print dress that we laughingly label our ‘choir uniform’, then stop off for a bottle of wine to warm up the old vocal cords.

Heaven only knows where this new routine will take us but if you should pass two women walking down the street in spandex (or leopard print) warbling like two old hens, you’ll know it’s us, and if we don’t lose a pound or read a book or bowl the perfect game, at least we can take comfort in knowing we made good use of an otherwise dreary day!

twooldladyfriends

Everyone’s got a story….

While on my daily walk recently I thought of a very old man I would often see riding a really old bicycle. I passed this fellow often, when driving or walking, and would see him daily, pedaling for several miles throughout the neighbourhood. He was slight of build and wore what looked like work apparel; old slacks and a flannel shirt, both worn. He had an old satchel tied to the back bumper with bungee cords and it was heavily weathered, like the old man. He rode with determination and a stamina you wouldn’t expect from someone of such advanced years. I got the distinct impression this man wasn’t riding for the pleasure of it…he had to be 80 years old, if a day, and his heavily wrinkled face belied his youthful energy.

Sometimes, if he passed close to me I’d smile and say hello but he never answered, never smiled. In fact, he never acknowledged me at all so eventually I learned to ignore him, reluctantly, because despite his apparent unfriendliness, I cared about him. What was such an elderly man doing riding a bicycle such distances? He’d ride in all kinds of weather, up hills, long distances, alongside traffic – it was obvious this wasn’t a pleasure ride, and I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was.

On this particular day, the day  I realized it had been several months since I’d last seen him, it occurred to me that he’d either retired from whatever it was he rode to and from each day, or he passed away.  Either way he was out of my sight and I could only speculate on his life story. I had a feeling it wasn’t a happy one.

This brought me to thinking about others we encounter every day. The cashier at the grocery store, the school bus driver, the dentist, the housewife, the unruly teenager, the business man, they all have a story and no two are alike. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a glimpse of another’s life, just for comparison? Maybe we’d see a life filled with struggle and turmoil, a life story that would make us grateful of our own. On the other hand we might also glimpse a life of pleasure, one we deem more pleasurable than ours ….maybe it’s better not to know. Or maybe witnessing a life better than ours would motivate us to make changes or improvements to our story.

‘People watching’ is something we all do, most often unconsciously I suspect, and we also likely pass judgement on these individuals based on our first impressions . This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because our first impressions are generally drawn from instinct, intuition, and that gut feeling is generally accurate in reading the basis of a situation, but that’s where it ends. From there our imagination kicks in and our subconscious embellishes the situation to explain it or to make it more interesting.

I imagined that the old man was unhappy based solely on my first impression; that he kept to himself and didn’t smile or acknowledge me told me he was unhappy….he had to be. Wouldn’t a happy person smile and return a greeting? And would a happy person impose a physically taxing lifestyle on themselves at an elderly age if it wasn’t necessary? My logical mind says no but then who am I to define what is or isn’t logical? I created a life story for this man to make sense of my first impressions of him. I envisioned a hard and lonely life. I convinced myself he was pedaling to and from a job of labour where he made a meager living, hence the need to ride a bicycle. He had no family and invited no friendships. Life brought him little joy and he merely existed to fulfill the routine he had established to sustain himself until his time to pass would come. Pretty gruesome picture huh? But then in the absence of any details or explanations from the old man himself, I had to create a picture that justified my first impressions.

I also have to face the possibility that this fellow is an eccentric millionaire who lived the life of a pauper by choice, then retired to his island in the Caribbean.

Speculating on another’s story gives your imagination free reign. You can create whatever scenario you want to make their story interesting and you can justify anything in your life that doesn’t measure up, because you’re the author and this particular story will never be read by another. The only thing we need to remember is that while we’re watching others there’s someone watching us and it would be interesting to see what story they fashion for us based on their first impression.

old man on bike

It’s never too late

I have a dear friend, a fellow, who retired after decades of working a high stress job in financial services.  Now he could’ve sat back and enjoyed the fruits of his labour, and no one would’ve judged him, but he didn’t. With a zest for life and a passion for music, he re-invented himself and launched a solo music career, in his sixties. How’s that for inspiring?

He performs at local pubs and was recently featured on a local radio show as an ‘up and coming new artist’. The fact that he has musical talent aside, one has to admire his gumption. It’s not easy to put yourself out there at any age, so to do it when you’re past middle age speaks not only to his courage, but also to his confidence, and that’s what got me to thinking.

We spend so much of our lives learning, practicing, and proving our worth, in our home, our relationships, and our careers, and it is the collection of these experiences over a life time that gives some of us the confidence to forge into new territory in our advanced years. Now not everyone feels compelled to launch a 2nd career. Many are happy to retire from one role and enjoy a quiet life, i.e. they don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone because they are content with what they’ve accomplished and they just want to relax and enjoy life. For many though, the completion of one cycle just signals the start of another.

The husband (who has since passed) of another close friend, preceded his own upcoming retirement  from a career in law enforcement by returning to school to get a law degree  because he knew there was more in him to offer. Returning to school as a mature student is daunting enough, let alone taking on the challenge and discipline of higher academia while middle aged and working full time.  He finished out his 2nd career, as a lawyer, then tried his hand at acting, (something he’d always enjoyed) landing several support roles in movies, television shows and commercials.  He lived life to the fullest and were it not for his untimely passing, I’ve no doubt he’d be on his 4th career by now.

These two individuals not only warrant our admiration, but reaffirm to anyone over 30 that our worth never expires. The lessons we learn throughout life contribute to our library of knowledge, feeding our self-confidence and fueling our ambition.  It is never too late to learn something new, or launch a new career, or make a new friend, because despite the snow on your roof, it’s the passion in your heart that ignites the fire that is our driving force. The older we get, the more open and accepting we are, and the more open and accepting we are the more freely our creative juices flow.

Don’t sit down and look back on your life, sit on the edge of your seat and look forward with enthusiasm because there is still so much to accomplish before you write your last chapter.

youre never too old