Stepping onto the soapbox

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Too much, lately, mortality has crept into my consciousness. It happens as we age, and sometimes that means taking a stark look at the world around us.

When we are young, we feel invulnerable, as well we should. We are surrounded by nurturing families, if we are fortunate enough, and we have the capacity in youth to bounce back quickly from our assorted scrapes and bruises. As we age, those bruises take longer to recover from, and the promises of the future become less all encompassing. These days, children are robbed of some of that invulnerability as they see peers gunned down in the streets and even in school. That theft of their optimism and hope is tragic. When I was young, the Viet Nam war took away optimism and faith in the future, but now the thief has come way too close to every home, much closer than a faceless war machine. It’s hard to know these days how to keep our children and grandchildren safe.

We cannot depend on our democracy to keep us safe. Our beacon for the world has dimmed. We seem to have forgotten that our participatory form of government requires our participation more than once every two years, more than just making marks on a ballot. We have to be engaged, active in the decisions that affect us all.

We can complain all we want about the old white men in Washington, but WE are the ones who put them there, rather than finding and supporting new voices and ideas that match our own.

Of course we’re angry! We have been divided into us and them, and that’s just wrong. How do we make the world better for the generations to come if we don’t look for common ground? How do we help our neighbors, our communities and our country if we are focused solely on protecting our own little piece of the pie? How do we encourage peace and prosperity if we feel like someone else’s basic human rights somehow take away from our own?

This has been a difficult summer and fall. And I’m just as guilty as the next guy of hunkering down and trying not to get too badly bruised by what’s going on around me. We live in interesting times, and it’s scary. But it has always been at least a little scary. Change happens, and it’s unsettling.

But it shouldn’t be stealing the invulnerability of our children and grandchildren. They need to know that we, ALL of us, are working to make this a better, safer, more humane world for them and their children and grandchildren. That’s our job. And it’s time we stepped up and did it.

Vote. Volunteer. Participate. Foster the change for the better that you want. Tell the people you elected (even if you didn’t vote for them, they’re still supposed to represent you) what your concerns are and what ideas you have to make things better.

We have all been coasting for too long, hoping that somehow we can avoid crashing if we close our eyes and pray, but we forget to use the steering wheel.

If we work together, and it will take active, hard work, if we realize that this is not a zero-sum game, we can change our futures. We can give children back their invulnerability. We can even reduce our own bruises. And we can all have a better future.

/off soapbox

Age? Really?

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I keep trying to figure out what ‘old’ means.

When I was a child, anyone over 20 was old.

When I was in my teens, I couldn’t trust anyone over 30.

When I went to college, my world was made up mostly of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

This week one of my nieces celebrates her 40th birthday and one of my sisters celebrates her 60th. My sons are in their 30s. My parents are in their 90s.

I try to imagine retiring. Even early retirement is at least five years away, realistically retirement is on the other side of several mountains.

But I don’t *feel* old. I may tire more easily and sleep less soundly, but there are still several lifetimes’ worth of things I want to do.

My dogs certainly keep me active, which I’m sure helps…

I am surrounded by college students and lots of other people younger than I – I sometimes wonder who they see when they look at me. Some old fart who gets in the way? Or someone with some experience and expertise who can teach them something and smooth their transition to the next phase of their lives?

Maybe I should spend more time in front of the mirror, but there isn’t time for that and, aside from making sure I won’t scare children and horses, I’m ready to face the world in whatever shape today has given me.

What scares me is seeing some people in their 30s and 40s who seem old to me – not by virtue of wisdom but because they seem exhausted and disengaged from life. They seem to have lost sight of how much fun, how rewarding and challenging and lovely life can be. I worry about them.

Maybe they should get a dog.

Stop. Think. Listen.

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For some reason we have become so worried about compromise or losing our lofty position that we draw a line in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that there could be anything of any value on the other side.

And, God forbid, someone on the ‘other side’ should make overtures and offer a few steps in our direction, we get so rattled that we step farther from the line and now even refuse to acknowledge that where the line was had any merit.

Polarization and finger pointing and demonization of opponents helps no one, and only costs us the opportunity to learn something. Even if all we learn is that the other side has fair reasons for their opinions, though we can’t possibly share them. And it costs us the opportunity to share the information we have, potentially swaying, if only a little, one or more from the other camp. At least we might educate a bit.

It does us no good to rant against injustice if we cannot define justice. And how do we weigh the facts if we refuse to listen to them?

We must at least admit the humanity of those with whom we might disagree, however vehemently. And there, in our common humanity, is at least *some* common ground. Who knows what else we might discover if only we took the time, opened our eyes and our ears and our minds, and listened.

We don’t have to agree. We just have to quit disagreeing simply because of who said it – whatever ‘it’ may be.

I know, I’m dreaming. I just can’t help it.

Family changes

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My sisters and I have had to overtly acknowledge some things recently that – while we have known them intellectually – we have always kept the emotional reality at arm’s length.

Our parents are mortal.

We will never again live, as a family, in our old house.

We may visit a few times over the next few months, but mostly to remove the few remaining possessions we have kept there.

Our parents are in their 90s. They are strong, proud, stubborn individuals who find a great deal of their strength in each other and in the family they have created together. They worked hard to raise their children properly, during some times when raising a watermelon would have been difficult.

Based on what I see of the next generation, they managed to pass a fair amount of wisdom along (maybe it skips a generation).

But things change and in our efforts to keep them safe and healthy and comfortable, it seemed wisest to move them from that house into an assisted-living apartment near where two siblings live and where my parents can get the care and assistance they need.

And they both ended up in the emergency room.

They have recovered from the rigors of the move and are settling into a routine. They have some of their own things there (furniture, pictures, dishes and the like) and they are adapting.

But the crises of the past week, even though over, brought us face to face with mortality and loss. So, naturally, each of us bottled it up as long as we could.

It is so easy to focus on the next task – in part because there are so many that demand our attention. But each of us needs to set aside some time to say goodbye to our old home and to the youthful faith that our parents would always be there for us.

They won’t. They would if they could, but they can’t.

They raised us to be strong, self-reliant, fair, and stoic. If you were going to cry, you’d better have damned good reason.

I think we do.

I suspect that my siblings and I will each weep alone once or twice over the next few weeks.

And when we all walk into the house that no longer is home to our parents, I suspect that we will all weep together.

As a family.

Dear Dad

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Like most everyone else, I will be reflecting this weekend (as I do often) on the impact my father has had on my life.

From him I got my stubborness, determination, obsession with detail and the need to plan. Though at times those traits drive even me nuts, they have also stood me in good stead for a very long time.

My father never tried to be anything he wasn’t. What you saw was who he was. The only time he has ever struggled with himself was during that period when he realized he could no longer manage complex finances, though he couldn’t understand why.

All of his life he has taken care of those around him, until the past few years when we have finally been able to return the favor.  He took pride in being able to provide, and provide well, for his family, even in those years when thankless teenagers tried his patience no end. Even when he was disappointed or upset or even mildly disgusted by our choices or behavior, there was never any doubt, nor is there today, of his love for his family.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him was to let my own children know that no matter what, I would support them and love them. I may not have liked all of their choices but they have my unconditional love and loyalty — and, just as my father has, I take great pride and joy in the wonderful people my children have become.

There is no way I can repay everything my father has given me, the foundation he has provided for my life. Except to pay it both forward and behind, to live my life with honor and compassion and loyalty and strength, a strength borne of knowing the difference between right and wrong, of hating evil done but forgiving those who make mistakes, offering a hand up and an open mind. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

Dad, thank you.

Dad, I love you.