I went to the funeral of my 95 year old neighbor yesterday.  Only 6 weeks before that, I had gone to the funeral for his 91 year old wife.  Rolf was German; Armida was Mexican.  A lovely large, lively photo of Armida and Rolf as they were in their 50s was displayed.  The family had found it tucked away in a closet.

My most frequent memory of Armida and Rolf was seeing them walking the streets of the Village.  They made it a point to walk, walk, walk several times a day.  I only knew them for the last 14 or so years of their lives.  Beautiful music often poured out of their home because both of them had been professional musicians.

Rolf had the misfortune to be born in Germany during Hitler’s rise.  When the scouting program for youth turned into Hitler Youth, Rolf refused to participate and he was thrown out of the scouts.  But it wasn’t as easy to keep from being drafted into Hitler’s army.  He was eventually able to use his cunning, and his knowledge of Russian, to desert his army unit.  He literally ran away from the war.

A childhood pen pal correspondence with an American helped to get him into the U.S.  A letter he had kept from his Hitler Youth unit officially throwing him out of the movement helped him achieve U.S. citizenship.  His ability to play the viola helped him to play a concert right there in the White House near President Eisenhower.

He was also an accomplished photographer, and his little home displayed many of his keen-eyed photos taken around the world.  I felt honored when he particularly liked one of the photos I had taken.

They had married in their 50s, so there were no children.  They took several trips to Germany in the early years of being my neighbors.  They had lived there for 10 years at some point, and had both loved it.  But, looking toward the future, they decided they couldn’t live in a country that would not provide them medical care.

That decision ended up being a wise one since Armida began to develop medical problems.  A routine physical exam discovered Rolf had bladder cancer about 5 years ago.  He went through a grueling stretch of radiation.  Armida told me she didn’t want him to die of cancer.  He didn’t, but then Armida began to lose the strength in her legs and the years turned into being called upon to help her up when she fell coming down a slight descent on the way to their home.  Paramedics came regularly for calls to pick her up, take her to the hospital for tests, then bring her back.  It seemed almost like a nightly routine.  Finally, thankfully, they got caretakers to take care of Armida.  She still brightly smiled at me in greeting when the caretaker wheeled her back and forth and Rolf followed behind them, but I knew she could also be a tough one to take care of.  And then there was dementia creeping in.

After his wife could no longer balance enough to walk, I would see Rolf walking on his own sometimes, listing a bit to the side.  He always had a friendly smile.  And then there was the night at 1 a.m. when my doorbell rang.  A weak voice called out “help, help.”  I asked who it was, but there was no reply.  I asked what was wrong, but there was no reply except another weak “help.”  I called our Security to come, and kept asking who it was and what was wrong.  Without him telling me who it was, I didn’t think of Rolf because I knew there were caretakers for Armida.   What I didn’t know was that no caretaker stayed all night.  The Security guard had to call the paramedics once again to come for Armida.

I only heard that Rolf had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when we went to Armida’s funeral.  One of her sisters had come, along with nieces, and other family members I had never met before.  Rolf was in a wheel chair during the funeral.  He was quite surprised and glad to see so many neighbors gathered around.

Rolf turned 95 the week after Armida’s funeral.  I sent him a card, along with an invitation for me to write up something about his unusual life if he would like.  He said he wasn’t sure, he would think about it.  And I told him I’d get back in touch with him after I returned from a long-awaited trip I was making back east.  But after I returned and had recovered from the change of pace of my trip, Rolf fell and was in pain.  I didn’t get to talk to him again.

Basically the same people gathered once again at the Catholic cemetery to bid Rolf farewell.  We all had different memories of him, but one group of people came who described Rolf as I had never seen him.  They were a German-speaking group and spoke of Rolf as an important member of their international organization that had started in the 1800s.  At that time, there were German Jews as well in the group.  It was a group that never spoke about politics, religion, or their day jobs.  They were interested in good humor and friendship.  A photo of a smiling Rolf among them all dressed in happy hats at one of their events graced the table next to the box holding his ashes.

Even at his funeral, Rolf wasn’t finished with humor.  The priest stood on a platform that was raised by pushing a button to reach the uppermost cubby where Armida’s ashes rested and awaited Rolf’s ashes to be beside her.  The priest solemnly put Rolf’s ashes where they belonged — next to Armida.  And then the worker pushed the button for the lift to come back down.  It didn’t move.  Two workers pushed and pushed, prodded, and looked over the connections.  It didn’t move.  The priest said this was the first time it had ever happened to him.  He had no choice but to just stand there looking slightly ridiculous.

The stand-off with the hydraulic lift went on for quite awhile.  It wouldn’t budge.   A low-tech manual ladder was brought and fortunately the priest was young enough to climb down the old-fashioned way.  A worker then climbed up the ladder to replace the front slab, close the crypt, and seal it.  Then, he pressed the same button that had refused to work so many times, and the lift quickly and dutifully made its trip down.

Smiles and chuckles all around.  We all knew this was Rolf’s last joke.

Thanks, Mom

8 May
0

It was not easy growing up with my mom.  She was not a happy person.  She found a lot of things to criticize in this world, especially her children.  When a child, I somehow grasped that I would never be able to please her.  So, I concentrated on just staying out of her angry way as much as I could.  As an adult, I felt grateful that my mother had inadvertently taught me a very important lesson — not to waste time and energy trying to be a people pleaser.

I fell in love at 13 with a 15 year old boy who made me feel beautiful, loved, and wanted.  Fortunately, my mother approved of him and became close friends with his mother.  Seven years later, she convinced us to get married at the end of my junior year in college rather than waiting until I graduated.  I followed a predictable path as the daughter she expected until, at 25, I told my parents that we had decided to adopt a child instead of having one the old-fashioned biological way.  Depriving them of a “real” grandchild was a severe blow, but the reality of their only grandson being a mixed black toddler was even harsher.  When I asked my mother why I had never known that they were racist against blacks, she admitted that she had known being racist was wrong and hadn’t wanted to pass that on to her children.

Confronted with a situation she couldn’t change, she and my dad made a sincere effort to be grandparents.  Ten years later, I deeply disappointed them when I made the very difficult decision to divorce.  My son chose to stay with his father because he was the more predictable parent.  Not truly knowing where my life would lead at that point, I accepted his decision.  The relationship with my mother continued to deteriorate until I was about to move to Israel as an immigrant.  She couldn’t bear the thought of no contact with me as I wandered the world, so our relationship slowly began to mend with phone calls and letters from exotic places.

My mother didn’t understand my attraction to then-third world China that brought me there time after time.  My parents came to China for their 50th wedding anniversary banquet with my Chinese students and friends.  During that visit, I saw my mother as she had never been before.  She was laughing, happy, oblivious to all the many discomforts of riding overcrowded trains with the wafting odor of urine, bumping along a village road on a tractor to get to my friend’s home, and sleeping on beds without mattresses.  My students instantly fell in love with her, and she with them.  They could never have believed that she was the same grumpy, always complaining woman who had been my mother.  She said it was the best trip of her life.

Years into my own adulthood, I was able to see my mother more clearly.  Her yelling rants and raves were like a child’s temper tantrums.  And the person she was unhappiest with wasn’t me, but herself.  She had been a very bright young woman who graduated Portia Law School at a time when few women even thought of it.  She had her first job working in a law office when World War II interrupted.  She loved my father enough to quit her job, follow him to an army base in Tampa, Florida, where they got  married and he awaited being shipped out to the European front.  Naive about birth control, she became a mother 13 months later.  She never worked again.

When she died, I found a large carton of all my letters to her and my dad carefully laid out chronologically.  On top of the pile was an advertisement for a vanity press.  She had passed on her love of reading and writing to me, and I eventually published two books, “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird,” and “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son.”  I am now working on a third book — philosophical science fiction — that I’m sure she would love to discuss with me.

As I pack my suitcase to go back to Boston for my 50th Reunion at Simmons College, I remember something my mother told me after she returned from her reunion.  When asked by a classmate what she had been doing all those years, she had replied, “I have been strictly ornamental.”

I may have been the one who chose my own path in life, to go where wanderlust led me, to indulge in the joy of a multi-faceted, multi-cultural life, to be an independent woman, but I suspect my mother and her unfulfilled life subtly pushed me along that path.

Thanks, Mom.

 

 

 

I’ve always loved libraries. However, the word “archive” called up an image of a dusty place, either down in the basement or up in the attic, with a gray-haired librarian watching over it. I certainly never thought there would one day be the “Suellen Zima Archive” located in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

I had wondered what to do with all those letters sitting quietly in boxes in my closet. They were precious to me, but I knew that the last 26 years of letters from my former Chinese students were also historically important first person accounts of those fast paced, tumultuous years when China emerged from an obscure third world country to the modern limelight. It didn’t seem right that their fate should be the rubbish bins.
“You need to give them to an archive” was the advice of a writer friend. I asked some of the students I’m still in contact with how they would feel about their letters being in an archive. They loved the idea and agreed it was the perfect place for their letters. A call to the archive department of a local university confirmed that the contents of those boxes were a unique letter collection. She suggested the Hoover Institution might welcome them.
After working out certain details with a helpful staff person at the Hoover and signing paperwork, I shipped out boxes containing hundreds of letters still in their stamped envelopes that my students had addressed to follow me to all the countries I lived in after my first visit to China in 1988. The Hoover Institution also took the photographs I had taken of China and the letter writers in those early days, a copy of my book, “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird” published in 2006, a digital copy of the Chinese translation of my book, and a video I had made explaining and showing what I included in the archive.
My image of archives is now a towering building at Stanford University with light and airy spaces for researchers to read and appreciate the heart and soul my students of the Tiananmen Generation shared with me as they grew into middle age. Archivists have preserved and protected all the material that is now in boxes. People who want to look at the contents must go there themselves, or pay a fee for archivists to research what they’re interested in. There were decisions I had to make about any restrictions I wanted to place on use of the materials. And I have designated one of the letter writers to make any necessary decisions about the archive after I die.
Not only have the letters and photos found a permanent home, but there is the possibility of adding material at any future time. One student has already sent all of my letters to him for the archive. Another has promised to do so when he feels ready to part with them.
The art of letter writing has given way to the convenience and speed of modern technology, but the specialness of holding a handwritten letter from far away and long ago remains valuable. Before you throw away cartons of old letters, think about archives.
For helpful information, go to:


Using the Hoover archives:  http://www.hoover.org/library-archives/collections/get-help/using-the-archives

Donating your Personal or Family Records to a Repository:
Link to the Suellen Zima archive:  http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8f47s94
See the video I made about the archive as well as other information on my website at www.zimatravels.com

Loving sculpture gardens just always came naturally to me, but this Saturday I finally understood the reason for my loving them.  I visited the Los Angeles Arboretum with 80 sculptures from local artists planted among the trees, bushes, and flowers.  We humans have misused, abused, and destroyed so much nature without even noticing.  But sculptures inserted among nature weds the beauty of nature, and the beauty of human-made creativity.  For a brief time (the sculptures will be taken down and returned to their makers), human creativity and nature’s creativity not only co-exist, but enhance one another.  Briefly, they belong wedded together.

The variety of what nature is capable of producing, and what these artists are capable of producing shows the kinship that creativity and nature have, that we humans are part of nature deep within our core.  Nature’s cleverness in the turn of a leaf, the budding of a flower, the colors it is capable of producing is connected to the human thoughts, feelings, anger, love, beauty, poignancy, happiness, and sadness of the artists’ creations.  Male peacocks strutting their stuff as ostentatiously as possible contributed live, kinetic art to the afternoon.

I have had the joyous experience of knowing some creative people.  I watched the mostly joy and sometimes anguish when they used their talents to create.  I lived for awhile with a musical missionary in Taiwan and experienced how music was a daily part of living with her.  You couldn’t separate her and her life from music.  A musician friend told me she was once asked in an interview why she decided to become a musician.  She said she didn’t become a musician.  She was a musician and knew it from an early age.

How both excited and at peace I felt wandering through the arboretum soaking it in as deeply as I could.  It made me very glad to still be alive.

 

After Auschwitz

28 Jan
0

For over a million people, there was no “after” Auschwitz.  But, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of their freedom,  some of the remaining survivors traveled there again, most for the last time.  A few were interviewed for a CNN “Voices of Auschwitz” program.  My friend, Ruth Treeson, died a year ago.  But her book, “The Long Walk,” and personal conversations with Ruth about her years in Auschwitz between her 12th and 15th birthdays made Auschwitz more than just a chamber of horrors for me.

Like the survivors interviewed in the tv program, Ruth had also come from a warm and loving family.  Although she had no particular talent or skill that kept her alive, she had an amazingly well-developed ability to daydream that helped to keep her alive.  Like the survivors interviewed in the tv program, Ruth not only survived the death camp, but had to figure out how to survive without family after the war.  Where to go?  What to do?

Each of them had to renew their physical and mental strengths to once again add vitality and direction to their lives.  Grieving was necessary, but so was pushing beyond the grief to a life they had never dreamed of without their families.  Like the others in the tv interviews, Ruth pulled herself together and fashioned a new life for herself.  I was stunned when she once said to me that she had had a “good life.”  Education, marriage, children, grandchildren, and the skill of writing made her life worth living.

Although she used her poetry to describe many aspects of her life, it also searingly expressed the pain of such experiences as a child’s terror of what she feared was coming, and the footsteps of the freezing, endless forced march that killed so many not long before the war ended.

“The Long Walk” was written toward the end of her life.  I never asked her why she waited so long to write it, but she used the last years of her life speaking to groups about her book.  Her favorite listeners were troubled high school youth who felt alienated, alone, and humiliated.  Her message was that each person was in charge of how s/he thought about him/herself no matter what the conditions one lived under.  Certainly the Nazis had done their best to make her feel worthless, but she kept her dignity and humanity.  And, amazingly to many of the teenagers who listened to her, she harbored no hatred or malice toward anyone.  The Nazis not only lost the war, but also lost in destroying her sense of self-worth and tolerance.  She treasured the many thank you letters she received from those high school students.

The survivors left behind their stories to be preserved and heard by the rest of the world.  The importance of first-hand accounts of anything historical are to be honored and studied.  Unfortunately, those words, pictures, images, don’t stop such things from happening again.  Anti-Jewish sentiment is once again strong in the world.  The term “never again” is an unachievable dream against the many forms of racism and hatred in the world.  But still we humans continue to read and listen to the voices of the witnesses of inhumanity.  Why?

An excruciatingly beautiful film called “The Other Son,” remains in my mind.  Music is part of the story, and it touched chords deep within my gut. The plot was fictional, but quite plausible.  By accident, two babies born on the same day in the same hospital were switched.  One was born to a Jewish family; the other to a Palestinian family.  The film begins 18 years later when the Jewish boy is ready to enter the army.  Routine blood tests reveal he could not be the father’s son.  After some unsettling days of the father thinking that his wife had not been faithful to him, the hospital uses DNA tests to positively identify the two babies and their biological parents.

While the pathos of such a predicament would apply to any two families anywhere in such a situation, the long standing divide and very raw tension between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs exacerbate the anguish in dealing with it.  This movie skillfully avoids being maudlin and overly sentimental by reaching a deeper level in how each young man, their siblings, and both mothers and fathers learn to live with the truth of their sons.

I was an immigrant in Israel between 1983 and 1989.  Through where I lived and worked, I became familiar with Tel Aviv, Ramat Aviv, Maalot, Kfar Saba, and also an Arab town inside Israel called Shefaram.  It was in Shefaram where I worked for 18 months that I was able to appreciate the Arab culture from living in it.

I loved much about my life in Israel,  but became increasingly pessimistic about any resolution to the conflict between Arabs and Jews.  I could see the right and wrong of both sides of the divide.  Eventually, it tore me apart and was a large part of the reason I decided to leave Israel in spite of loving it.  The poignancy of the two boys, as well as their families, having to reassess their identities from the “other side” rang true.

The boy who thought he was Jewish was not accepted for army duty.  He had been a religious Jew, so what distressed him even more deeply was learning he was no longer even considered a Jew by Orthodox Jewish law because his real mother was not Jewish.  He would now have to go through a conversion process to remain Jewish.

West Bank Arabs are not allowed easy access to Israel, but now the Palestinian young man could easily have access to Israel, including being able to walk on the beach in Tel Aviv at night.  I was reminded of a young Palestinian man who came into Israel every day to clean the immigrant center where I lived.  Although he worked in Israel every day, he was not allowed to stay overnight inside Israel.  One evening, however, he couldn’t get home.  We walked on the beach.  I didn’t realize at the time how thrilling it was for him to walk the beach at Tel Aviv and enjoy being in the active, happy night life there.

Israel is much smaller than most people think.  From my little window in Kfar Saba, I could see the West Bank.  What marks Israel and Palestine now are huge walls that Israel erected years after I left.  The looming grotesque concrete dividers between Israel and Palestine are a very potent image in the film.

I was mother to an adopted child with no DNA link to me.  Although I did it knowingly, and the parents in the story had not, I could understand how both sets of parents could not and would not stop loving the child they had raised.  Yet, some of the most painfully beautiful moments of the film came when each mother tenderly touched the son she hadn’t raised.

This movie managed to show the additional complexities and complications of life in Israel through what the families went through in accepting “the enemy” into their family.  Although a fictional story, they were very real people who could make us feel each one’s distinctive pain and love.

It was time.  I joined in a protest march in Santa Ana, California.   It was organized by a Baptist Church and a Unitarian Universalist church, neither of which I belong to.   Small in number, it was nonetheless impressive in the variety of people who marched together.   Orange County in California has many minorities, but few African-Americans.  I was the white Jewish senior marching along with young and old whites, African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, and an Asian young man.  It felt good to be among them.  Most likely we would never have met if it weren’t for our united cause of raising our voices in protest against police brutality.

We may have been hard to see in the darkness of the evening, but our chants of “We can’t breathe” and “Hands up.  Don’t shoot” were loud enough to attract bystanders, with honking cars adding their agreement to the protest march.   We stopped at our destination for a few words of encouragement from a pastor, a minister,  a Muslim imam, a young woman who had attended workshops in Ferguson about non-violent demonstrations, a young man who had been personal friends with a mentally ill unarmed man who had been senselessly killed by police in a nearby city, and the president of the local NAACP.

One of the speakers asked us to yell out a word that described why we were there.  I thought about it for awhile, and the word BETRAYED surfaced.  The first policeman I ever met was the one who chatted with me daily as he stopped the cars so I could cross the busy street to walk to my grammar school.  I believed that policemen were my friends and protected people.  My time as a social worker exposed me to the dark world policemen have to live in daily.  It skewed one’s version of what life was all about and let in a lot of contradictions.  The friendly policeman helping children and old ladies across the street could sometimes be cold, brutal, and violent.  I felt my naive beliefs beginning to slip away.

As an idealistic child of the 60s, I marched in spirit with the protest movements.  I’ve asked myself why I didn’t join the protests with my feet on the ground then.  I’ve never answered that question.  When my husband and I adopted a black son in 1970, I didn’t think about the possibility that he might be a target for police.

Over the years,  I lived in other countries whose political leanings were repressive, harsh, and offered no dignity nor freedom.  In fact, my own four grandparents had left a repressive country to be American immigrants in the last century.   Although I saw the U.S. through more realistic lenses as I traveled, I maintained a belief in the American way.

The good old days of being naive are gone forever.  I feel betrayed not only by police, but also by politicians who make big decisions about things that affect my life.  I don’t know anymore whom to trust in our present world.  And so I have become one who doubts more than trusts.  And I march.

Written while watching a performance of Lita Albuquerque’s “An Elongated Now” on Laguna Beach, CA, on November 8, 2014, showing the bond of art and nature.

Two hundred people clad all in white walk barefoot single file onto the beach to wait for the sunset.  Waves roll in and out again.  Swimmers splash and a couple of boats stand still.  Paddle boarders float by.  Pelicans and gulls fly, unconcerned by the line of white-clad people forming along the water’s edge.

The two hundred white-clad people turn slowly in unison to face the sun.  It is still bright and casts its glory on a path over the ocean and to the shore.  The incoming waves curl as if to enclose the white-clad people.  A beachgoer does cartwheels along the beach.  The white-clad people closer to the brightest part of the sun turn into black silhouettes.

A cool breeze comes up on the unseasonably hot day.  The golden touch of impending sunset casts the sun’s glow on the yellowing white-clad people.  The shadows fall across the now-dimpled hills and valleys of the sand.  A blond girl walks across the sand and a long, thin shadow follows her.  A couple walks on the sand in the other direction with two thin strands of shadow preceding them.

The blue sea is yellowing now as the sun’s rays blend into it.  The faces on the white-clad people are bisected by shadow now.  The light changes as the sun sinks and our planet turns.  Art and nature combine.  A spot on the sea begins to sparkle like firecrackers.  The sun glints off the windows of the houses on the hillsides.  Is the sun sending a message to the glass of the windows, or vice versa?

The sun is brighter now, consolidating its yellow gleam while the black of the silhouettes deepens into shadow.  The white-clad people stand very patiently still, quietly being transformed by the setting sun.  A very tall, lithe girl on the beach balances dramatically on a round soccer ball that mimics the blazing ball of the sun.

The golden path from the sun across the sea is breaking up.  The golden glow on the beach is graying.  The sun sinks slowly behind the mountains of Catalina Island before it can reach the sea.  And now it’s half gone.

Steadily, the sun sinks until it is gone from view.  It is dusk.  Light pink streaks through the sky where the sun has gone.  It is not one of the incredibly colorful sunsets known to Laguna Beach, but it’s peaceful.  And still the white-clad people stand still and quiet while the sounds of the incoming waves get louder.  The birds have gathered on a rock in the ocean.  Are they also watching the sunset, or the white-clad people?

A drone flies in and by to capture the art piece.  The white-clad people slowly revolve in place.  As they turn, they look down at a small blue light that each holds in a hand.  The sky darkens as the white-clad people stop revolving.  The little dots of hand-held blue add a broken dotted blue line to the scene.

A few people still swim in the darkening, warmer than usual sea.  The large boulders in the water are etched more clearly by their deepening blackness against a pink sherbert stripe in the sky.  The white-clad people walk slowly off the beach, each still holding a blue dot.  The pink sherbert stripe subtly changes to orange sherbert as the two hundred white-clad people walk away in single file.

It’s only 5:25 p.m.  Sunset comes early in November in southern California.

I live in a retirement community that is its own city.  Statistically, it is one of the safest cities in the U.S.  But that relates to the low crime level.  In fact, it’s one of the most dangerous cities because so many of its drivers maintain the delusion that they are still safe drivers.   The age of dying has been increasing to the point that we have many drivers in their 80s, 90s, and yes, even 100 or older.  The last thing they let go of are their car keys.  That is not for lack of alternatives.  In fact, we have a very decent village bus service from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. as well as subsidized taxi vouchers.

Aging means that our vision, hearing, neck mobility, and reaction time are deteriorating.  It doesn’t make much difference that you have been driving since you were 16.  My father had been a traveling salesman who put on millions of miles.  He could drive in all kinds of weather and easily found his way around well before the time of GPS gadgets.  However, in his 70s, macular degeneration and a mind that could no longer tell whether to turn left or right meant he should no longer drive.  But he still had a valid license.  In our Village, people in their 90s who renew their driver’s license get one that is valid for 5 years.  Does that make any sense?

In 2010, I fainted.  I was not driving at the time, but I had been driving just 10 minutes before I fainted.  A doctor told me that the Department of Motor Vehicles requires that you refrain from driving for 6 months after fainting.   She did not report my fainting to the DMV.  Remembering how quickly I had fainted, I chose to stop driving.  But I’ve known others in my community who have fainted and the doctors do not tell their patients about the law, and do not report them to the DMV.  They just keep driving on our streets.

But even when the DMV does take away the right to drive,  some drivers in our community continue to drive without a license.  There is apparently no connection between a car registration and a driver’s license.  When I did drive, I took the AARP Drive Alive courses.  The leader of the last one I attended proudly introduced himself as the person who had just helped a 101 year old whose license had been revoked regain a license to drive.  Really?

We have always had a high number of accidents in our community, but it is getting worse with the increasing age of the drivers.  I saw the aftermath of a 4 car collision in a parking lot.  Mixing up the gas pedal and the brake, and using forward when you mean reverse also caused another recent 4 car parking lot accident by someone I know.  She is 92, and out looking for a used car so she can get out on the roads again.

Sometimes these elderly drivers turn out to be killers.  Within my memory of living here, elderly drivers from our Village killed a young Highway Patrol officer on a motorcycle, a gardener riding a lawn mower, a pedestrian going to a clubhouse, and a lady eating lunch INSIDE a restaurant (yes, the car smashed through the restaurant window).

While I don’t think about crime very much in our small community, I practice very extreme caution walking our streets.  And I wonder why seniors, many of them my friends,  insist they are still good drivers when they clearly aren’t.

I never gave much thought to life in my 70s until after I entered them.  Now that I’m 71, I realize that my life has shifted.  I still live in the same place I’ve lived for the last 15 years, have basically the same friends and activities, am reasonably healthy, but yet I’m not the same.  I feel different.  I no longer can put as much into a day as I used to.  I temporarily forget names of people I know very well.  It takes more effort to activate my still curious mind.  Intellectually knowing I am mortal is not quite the same as feeling that I’m mortal.  So what?

I heard an interview with Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and brother to Rahm Emanuel, which caught my attention.  Being surrounded by people in my retirement community who want to, and do, just go on and on and on into their 80s, 90s, and 100s, I’ve learned to keep quiet about my opinions on old age.  I feel very out of tune with the fountain of youth aspirations of most old people around me.  Many of them are already partly bionic.  How old is a 90 year old who has a pacemaker and a hip replacement?  A senior in our community is walking around very energetically with the newly transplanted heart of a 22 year old.  But Ezekiel Emanuel thinks 75 is a really decent life span.  And he espouses rejecting medication and extreme treatments after 75.

There are indeed cases of people in their 90s and 100s who are still doing amazing things.  But, he insists, this type of old person is very, very rare.  Most old people go from one problem to the next, using up enormous amounts  of Medicare money to keep them going until the bitter end.   I used to blame doctors and money-hungry pharmaceutical companies, but I have come to see that it is mostly the old folks themselves who refuse to die.  Ezekiel Emanuel’s cut off of 75 for medical interventions has few supporters.  Even the aging reporter I saw interviewing him kept trying to convince him to change his mind.  But I agree with him.

My life has been divided into many segments, each one fulfilling and challenging in its own way.  I am grateful for each segment.  In fact, my life turned out more interesting and more adventurous than any life I could have imagined.  I don’t want to end it trying whatever I have to resort to just to stay alive.

I have accepted that the wanderlust that propelled me around the world and into new cultures has been sated.  My world travels have now become mind travels.  I find excitement in learning new things, or re-examining old things.  I’m expanding mentally through researching, reading,  and writing my third book — one of philosophical science fiction.  It’s a book I hope to finish — but maybe not.  I have never felt freer — to live and to die.

 

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