At my age (66), permanence is not to be taken lightly. No one ever knows how long he or she has on this earth, and no one really knows if there is an afterlife of any sort. Whether we get to do life again, as with reincarnation; or we move on to a heaven where our spirits live on forever; or whether our life energy just dissipates into the universe–well, no one can be absolutely certain.
It makes me feel good when I encounter someone who is so certain of Heaven or reincarnation. But it also makes me wonder what makes someone good enough for Heaven, and how the universe or gods would judge me for a reincarnate life: have I been good enough toward others? would I come back to life as a person of higher stature, or as an amoeba? Further, I wonder if I have been as good as I could be, or if I have hurt too many people in life with my good intentions? Have I left anything behind for someone to remember me by in a positive way? Would I be missed? Would my loved ones be relieved with my parting?
Life–the one being lived–is the one thing that is not permanent, for sure. True, little in life or Nature is truly permanent. Even Earth will one day be overcome by universal forces and the lifespan of a star, our sun, follows rules of physics, even if we want to believe otherwise. And if Earth one the sun cease to exist, what happens to any spiritual essence we leave behind?
Earlier today, I blogged on permanence in the learning of a new art form, and the relationship of permanence to the learning process, especially of practice work. I don’t claim to be an artist or writer, but what will happen to anything I produce after I am gone? Although there is some perceived permanence to the Internet, how long will that exist? How long will any impression we make on the world be left, whether an impression of our growth or some final masterpiece we leave behind? How long is permanence?
I am so glad that I don’t dwell on such thoughts. For now, just doing what I can to be active, to be me, to maintain contact with my family and friends–for now, that’s enough. I am just glad to be alive, experience new things, and enjoy the moment. I have not always felt like this.
Try hard to enjoy the days that are left to you, no matter how old you are. None of us is permanent. Leave behind the best impression that you can on those proverbial sands of time.
Several hours after publishing this post, I came across this passage in Cat Deck the Halls, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
That was the way the world worked, …, in gigantic cycles of change.
But that would be centuries from now, … ; everything about the earth was ephemeral, each in its own time and cycle, nothing on this earth was meant to be forever.
Except … Our own spirits. Our spirits never die, they simply move on beyond earth’s cycles. [p. 16]
During the past month, I have not been on my computer much. In fact, I haven’t even been home this whole time. First, I was in New Jersey for my mother’s funeral. Next, I traveled to Texas, where I visited with my daughter-in-law and son, got to see my three grandsons, and managed to get my driver’s license (I had allowed my old one to expire). Finally, I am in Florida, primarily to have cataract surgery so I can drive at night. A friend had offered her home for the procedure, as both her husband and she herself had the identical procedures at the recommended eye institute.
My friend and I are the same age, and her husband is about 4 or 5 years older. They live in a beautiful ocean-side community in southern Florida. A good deal of the population of this community is well into retirement age. I have been getting a good look not only at myself and where I am in the aging process, but also at the different ways people age. What I am seeing is that there is no such thing as “normal aging.” Each person progresses toward the end of his/her life in a manner unique to the individual. For example, I have seen a man in his 90s who is doing remarkably well by my estimation, but who those who know him say has slipped a great deal physically and cognitively in recent months–so much so that his friends are concerned.
So far, during the week or so I have been here, I have met a lot of wonderful and vital individuals who are twenty years older than I am, yet seem to have fewer health issues and much more energy. Others are younger than I, but look and act older (I think–I don’t really know if I look and/or act my age). I have met 90-somethings who look no older than my conception of people in their 60s (that is, my age), and 60-somethings whose skin looks like crumpled and smoothed paper grocery sacks; octogenarians with straight backs and 60-somethings like me who resemble question marks; 70-somethings with acute hearing and those like me who ask a speaker to repeat him/herself three times before understanding (maybe) what was said; over-60s with general outward symptoms of diabetes and 80-somethings with no signs of ever having suffered from any disease.
My point? There does not appear to be any way to predict how each of us will age. It appears that genetics determines whether we can live longer; knowing our genetic affinities may help us to plan our lifestyles to extend both our years and the quality of the later years.
Relating to quality of life, I think I may be behind on modifying my lifestyle. For reasons I will not share, I did not properly exercise after surgeries during the past 10 or 15 years. Actually, make that 20. Had I been physically able to pursue a more active recovery after each major surgery (especially the 3 back surgeries), I would have fewer difficulties with back and abdominal musculature. I am certain of this. However, I also believe it is not too late to make changes in my lifestyle, and I am beginning to take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen this old body while I still have the motivation.
Motivation to become more fit is just one of the reasons why I purchased a Fitbit Charge HR this past holiday season (just over two months ago). I am monitoring primarily my steps, general activity level, overall heart rate, and–something more important to overall health than many of us believe–sleep, especially quality of sleep.
Being away from my physical therapist and having limited access to walking and stretching environments, I have been feeling the effects of a lower level of physical activity. Being away from my own bed has affected both the quantity and quality of sleep. Being away from my physical therapist leaves me too “scrunched” and susceptible to pain to follow through on some of the tougher abdominal and back strengthening exercises, too. These, in turn, make it more strenuous (as well as more painful) to stand up as straight as I would like for longer periods and during evening hours. It is a terrible downward cycle that I am in, and so I monitor steps, stairs, heart rate, and sleep much more earnestly than I would when back home. I am, after all, away from all things familiar.
Thus, I am more anxious to get back home to the island, back to a place where I can feel more comfortable about getting in the exercise program I had nearly “perfected” when I had to pack up hurriedly to attend my mother’s funeral. Soon I will be back to a place where I can perfect my lifestyle modification program.
Okay! Time to get some extended walking time into my day!
Yes, life is happening all around me right now. Some are good, some not so good. Some…well, who knows.
Finally, after months of having to put it off again and again, I scheduled cataract surgery–got appointments set up and flight reservations made. All together, it takes about three weeks to get both eyes done from initial consultation and exam through actual procedure and follow-up, one eye at a time.
Not an hour after I get everything scheduled, I see an email message from my brother-in-law that my mother is in the hospital. We must have been on the phone for the better part of an hour, talking about how she has been, what she says to me versus what she says to my sister and him. You would think that because she lives with them, she would share more information with them. But you have to know my mother. She’s a real handful at the best of times. At age 88, she is still kicking around and refusing help from anyone unless absolutely, positively necessary. And she doesn’t like being “in the way.” She has gone out of her way to avoid allowing herself to feel that she is home. I can guarantee that this is not how she is treated; this is just the way she is. So she also does not tell her family everything that she is feeling physically, either.
Until about a week ago, that is.
That was when she fell and couldn’t get up because, for the first time, she could not feel her legs. She was near a wall in her room, so she was able to pull herself up into a sitting position until my brother-in-law got home. When I spoke to her several days after this first happened, she told me she had been falling fairly regularly, but she was never hurt and she was always able to get up. She also didn’t bother to share this information with the household. As I said, she’s a handful.
Right now, she has congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and one or two infections that are being treated. She is fairly strong, but she is in a semi-delirious state and keeps pulling out her IVs and pulling off her oxygen mask. As I write this, she is being sedated, mostly to keep her from pulling life-sustaining equipment from herself, I think.
And while all this is going on–just after I made appointments for badly needed eye surgery–we are also trying to buy a house. This is not an easy task at our age (66), and we need to dip into our retirement funds to make it work. If we dip into them the wrong way, we will be left penniless into our old age, even though my husband is still working full time and doesn’t plan to actually retire until he is at least 70. Basically, he wants to work as long as his employer is willing to keep him on.
So much is going on right now that can once again hamper something so important to me–arranging to be able to see enough at night to drive and maybe even read a physical book instead of using a reading device or a computer. And I need to be able to drive at night, since my husband does not drive at all–doesn’t now, never did.
I wish I could be with my mother to provide some relief to my sister and brother-in-law, who are with her all the time. But I’m no good to anyone without the ability to see at night. And I am reasonably certain that my mother, despite this current setback, will be on her feet and being ornery again in no time.
And I wonder: will this be me in twenty years? Probably not, but who knows?
So why am I worried that I may need to postpone my own needed surgery yet again? Maybe it is because I’ve had to do it so many times before during the past three years…
No good dwelling on that too long. What will happen will happen, regardless of my own needs and desires. As always, I will roll like a shell in the ocean waves that surround the tiny island on which I currently live…
Each day, I awake and feel immense gratitude that another day unfolds before me. Each day that I awake is like a gift from Heaven.
Many of us feel this way as we age. Most of us think of death as something that will come to us with a long enough warning to allow us to put affairs in order (if we have procrastinated), and will give us plenty of opportunities to say our good-byes and bring closure to our relationships with those closest to us. Many of us barely think that a freak of events can cause us to die completely unexpectedly–a traffic accident, a weak tree branch suddenly falling on us and cracking our skull, a random drive-by shooting in a safe neighborhood, a heart-attack when no one is around to revive us or call 911. So many ways in which our lives can end instantaneously by simple acts of Fate.
Me–well, I have recently had a series of medical issues, but the worst of them is a case of diverticulosis–“sacs” in the colon–that we almost all get as we age; but mine is particularly “delicate” because the sacs are fist-sized, and there are at least four of them on the left side of my colon. Each collects bodily waste that can cause infection or become toxic and, if suddenly “twisted”, colon death. If any of the sacs suddenly bursts, due to their size and the probability of setting off a chain reaction, I will bleed out in five minutes or less–all without any warning, and too quickly for even the fastest emergency medical response team or ambulance crew to do anything about.
But you can have surgery, you’re thinking. Well, I’m planning on it. However, there are other complications. Two months earlier, I suffered a completely unanticipated two bouts with three bleeding ulcers that sent me to the local hospital for transfusion–four units the first time, two more units less than a week after the first. When I was released from the hospital, the only advice I was given was to rest and eat a bland diet for at least 6 months. It seems that no one thought about iron supplements, but that’s a whole different story, and I blame myself for not seeing my internist soon enough to discuss dietetic and supplemental options.
About six weeks after this series of ulcer-related problems, I noticed that I was getting weaker instead of stronger. I was trying to strengthen up with exercises in the community pool, but found that I could do less with each session. Then one morning, I sat in my car for about a minute before putting my car into reverse and realized I wasn’t sure which pedal was the break and which the gas. Once I got that straight through trial and error while in neutral, I drove to the neighboring city where I ended up shopping for groceries instead of meeting up with a friend (her mix-up this time, not mine). In the store, I began to experience incidents of dizziness that were apparently noticeable enough that my favorite “bag boy” interrupted his packing for another customer and hurried down the aisle I was shopping in to ask if I was OK. I told him I was a little dizzy, and that maybe I was done with shopping for the day. I drove home very slowly, noticing that I was driving like I was inebriated–taking curves wide on our narrow roads, stopping a little to close to the car ahead of me, driving toward the middle of the road instead of in my lane (as I said, very narrow roads here on the island), moving too far from parked vehicles, etc. Clearly, it was time to visit my doctor, which I did the next day. The office sent me for blood tests–but that took several more days to do mostly because of the crazy laboratory hours related to certain tests. By the time I had blood drawn, we were preparing for a trip to a neighboring island for a conference related to my husband’s work. I was feeling poorly enough at that point where I just wanted to cancel my flight reservations and stay home. He became very insistent that I accompany him, and I didn’t have the strength to argue too long–although I was very unhappy with the fact that he would not accept my desire to stay home.
So we traveled to St. Kitt’s (St. Christopher Island), picked up the rental car, and I had an accident less than a block from the rental agency–nothing serious, just ripped off mirrors and a few scratches. Now, part of the problem–most of it, possibly–was because St. Kitt’s driving is of the British persuasion–one drives on the left. It’s not that I don’t know how to drive “British”–have done so in the middle of England’s small twisty roads in the dark, fog, and rain, driving a car with a manual transmission (thank goodness the gears were in the same place, just accessible by the wrong hand); and maneuvered triple round-abouts that left me white-knuckled and mummy-stiff. What I believe happened is that my perception was totally off–effects of the anemia I didn’t know about yet. Well, three hours and one new rental later, we were on our way to our resort hotel, where the car stayed parked until we returned to the airport.
Each day, I was feeling more and more ill, managing to contract some form of bronchitis while there, as well. The next day (Monday), I drove to the internist’s office for the lab results. She took one look at the red blood cell count (64) from the week before and would not even let me drive the half kilometer home to pick up some night clothes and toiletries. My husband, who does not drive, called a co-worker to take me to the hospital from the doctor’s office, and there was an amusing series of events as Joe’s two colleagues planned how to get my car home and me to the hospital as quickly as possible.
The moment I got to the emergency room (the doctor had called ahead), I was checked into the hospital and immediately transfused with a unit of blood. The assumption was that my ulcers had started acting up again, but the next day’s endoscopy showed they were healing quite well and not actively giving me trouble. Two days later, after a double cleansing of my lower GI tract, and after finding no evidence of residual blood in the “output,” I finally received a colonoscopy. That’s when the fist-sized sacs (they looked a lot like volcanic craters in one rendering) were discovered. But my blood count was still down, with both red and white blood cells “disappearing” in balanced proportions; and the doctors were left completely baffled. Before releasing me on Friday, I was transfused overnight with two more units of blood given at a snail’s pace drip (6 hours per unit to enter my system).
In the meantime, I was being given massive doses of antibiotics–first as injections, then switched to fast IV drips–three to four times a day, treating an eye/sinus infection, and used prophylactically to prevent my own bronchitis from turning into pneumonia.
But the worst part for me was this: because of my low blood count, surgery is out of the question until the count enters the normal range. Also, because of the size and nature of the sacs, any one of them can burst just for the heck of it, and that would cause me to bleed out too quickly to save my life. If my blood count were normal, surgery would have been scheduled immediately, and I would have been flown to the US for the surgery. Although I was finally prescribed massive doses of iron in tablet form, the doctors still don’t know where my blood cells are going. I suspect I have a tiny black hole somewhere in my body that eats only blood cells and sends them to some alternate universe–probably to some lab that is studying human anatomy or something. As a friend suggested, maybe my body has simply decided to stop producing blood cells, which raises a bunch of other serious questions.
So, for now, I live each day one day at a time, not knowing if I will survive the day or receive the gift of awaking the next morning. There’s a much greater limit now to how much I can accomplish in a given day. Despite being cautioned not to drive, we live in an area too remote to keep me out of my car. I do as much as possible during the morning, when my strength seems to be greatest and my ability to maneuver the car is at its best. Because most volunteer work is in the afternoon, I have done very little during the past several weeks. Although I try very hard to remain positive during the day, I tend to get cranky and speak too bluntly, especially when I have no strength to either play silly social interaction “games” or am simply too tired to hold back comments or use my energy to say things nicely (especially since no one seems to understand my meaning when I obfuscate just enough to keep things pleasant). Being “nice” simply takes too much effort sometimes; and frankly, I have found that bluntness is much more effective in getting meaning across, even if it causes people to get angry. Yes, I try to be blunt nicely, but there are far too many people who don’t really listen to what any one of us says, even if we are answering a question they asked and (logically) should want to hear the answer. They don’t. But that’s another topic.
One day at a time, and immense gratitude for each new day. That’s the way I function now. I do what I can, rest when I need, eat when my phone alarm reminds me it’s meal time, make certain my meals are fiber-rich, drink plenty of herbal teas, consume my ginger drink, etc. I take my medications at the right time, although I often forget about my Restasis® and Patenol® eye drops, and try to do all the normal little things of life. In general, I follow the same pattern my father followed when he knew his aneurysm would kill him when he least expected it. And it did–while he was in the middle of the mundane task of preparing his cup of coffee and breakfast.
To dwell on death is absurd–Death comes for each of us when s/he feels our time is over. There’s no escaping that. There is only time to set our affairs in order (hopefully), and to live each day as though it were our last. For me, until and if my blood count allows for the surgery, that living is especially important. I still haven’t visited all the beaches on this beautiful island…
I’ve got a lot of years behind me, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes related to family. But what I’ve discovered is that I don’t particularly care for my family, especially for the way my children turned out. I don’t know what their memories of me are, as none of them have the guts to speak with me, even though I’ve never closed off any doors to them. They, on the other hand–and for reasons they have chosen to keep from me–have shut off any means of communication there can possibly be.
As a student of human nature, I observe and see both the deliberate misinterpretations and the meanness with which my adult children choose to withhold communication. Both are involved with significant others who are nice enough and smart enough in their own right, but who have severe limits in acceptance of differences. But then, the same is true of my children, so the matches are probably heaven-sanctioned. For a while, I was hurt by responses–or lack thereof–related to the only visit I have made to them in many, many years. My own frustration to being shunned upon my return home turned to anger and outright and open vehemence. Upon further reflection, I realized that I simply do not like either my children or their mates, mostly because my own children have chosen to ignore the concepts of both individual differences (specifically in the person who gave them life), of acceptance of the reality of aging, and the ability to weigh the many sides of an issue to determine future action/interaction. Clearly, I had been judged and sentenced without the luxury of speaking in my own defense.
As I have aged, I have suffered from a series of ailments which have left me in severe pain 24/7. Two months ago, I suffered a bout of extreme blood loss from a surprise attack of bleeding ulcers which ended up requiring the transfusion of 6 liters of blood. This can be a fatal attack if one is alone when such a bout occurs. Had my husband–from whom I was ready to seek a divorce–not been home at the time (the attack occurred at 2:00 a.m.), I would have died from the blood loss. He immediately called the community guard who called for an ambulance. Although I was floating in and out of consciousness during the 20-minute drive to the hospital, the intravenous delivery of fluids helped to stabilize me enough to get me to the hospital, where I received an immediate transfusion of blood and kept in the Intensive Care Unit for several days. For the first time in our marriage, and despite rare visits from him when I underwent 4 major surgeries (during one of which I actually died on the operating table and needed to be revived), he was at the hospital with me this time for hours at a time, trusting his fellow faculty at the local medical school to cover for him when he was with me. This was a major feat for my husband, who doesn’t drive, and who had to pay for taxi service each trip. All previous hospitalizations were no more than a city block from his office, and yet he rarely visited. If he did, he spent no more than 5 minutes with me because he had to catch the shuttle to the train station or bus depot. So his frequent and long visits during the bleeding ulcer recuperation was a huge surprise that changed the dynamic of our relationship forever.
Just prior to this attack, we had decided to seek help for our 24-year marriage instead of just ending it outright, either formally or informally. The sudden realization that I almost died on him made him realize that he was actually afraid to lose me, despite all our differences. The effort that he made to visit me frequently–often more than once a day–touched me in a way that I haven’t been touched by anything he did in many years. Thus, we are making great efforts to try to change the way we interact as well as our expectations of each other. We are both taking the continuation of this marriage very seriously. To me, I now know that he actually cares.
Meanwhile, although I posted on Facebook from the hospital, neither my two children nor my sister made any effort to wish me well, or to at least check to see how I was doing. My mother uses no electronic devices, but lives with my sister, and I know would have made an effort to call me if my sister had mentioned my illness to her. Thus, my sister either did not see any of my posts, leading me to believe that I had been blocked from her news feed, or simply didn’t care enough to mention it to my mother. That I had been blocked from my children’s feeds was obvious even before I was hospitalized, although it is not clear to me why my son chose to block me. But then, he ignored any communication I tried to initiate with him since my return home from my visit with him as well, whether via post, email, or direct telephone contact attempt. Upon the recommendation of my psychiatrist–whom I had been seeing since before the visits to my children and sister because I was trying to make sense of my relationship with my husband–suggested I write a letter to my son, who, as far as I knew at the time, was not shunning me. Since there has been no response of any kind, I guess I received my answer about my place in his life. In addition, I wrote to my 86-year-old mother letting her know what my situation had been and simply giving myself a sense of closure, in the event I would have no further direct contact with her. My husband is not good at thinking about letting family members know about any important events, so there was no expectation from me that he would contact family to let them know what was happening with me–although it is clear that none of them would have cared anyway (except my mother).
Since my illness, I have come to realize that family is not everything–at least, not blood relations or in-laws. The people I now feel closest to are people who are not related by blood or marriage (except my sister-in-law and her family). These are friends, whose friendships I cultivate when I can; with each of these individuals, I have had more individual contact than with my biological family as a whole. For the first time in my life I have come to understand the meaning of the concept that family does not need to comprise ancestral kinship. Family is those people with whom one can be oneself, even when one is cantankerous or when one makes unthinking remarks. I am finding I have Family all over the US and on this small island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten to whom I feel closer than with my biological family. This Family allows for my idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions without believing that I am being “dramatic” or self-indulgent. This Family understands when I take different positions–usually in a single 5-minute interval–because they know I am continuing to attempt to make sense of my world. In other words, they think the same way I think, even if we disagree at a given moment or on a particular point. I like to explore and weigh my thoughts out loud and through practice,and my Family is OK with that. My Family has no problem with being honest with me–often brutally–knowing that I will weigh all their comments and reactions, and apologize when needed or argue my case better when I disagree. These are the people I love and respect beyond measure, and they come from all walks of like–cultural, religious, professional, etc.
Thus, my initial hurt at the shunning by my purportedly Christian family was very quickly replaced by a sadness over the loss of their love and/or caring. For years I have known that I love my sister-in-law more than my sister, and have developed a respect for my niece(in-law) for her courteousness, including the simple written or spoken “thank you” for even the smallest gifts. Not one of my grandchildren has ever sent us a thank you note, and only two have thanked me when a gift or courtesy was delivered in person during my recent visit–but even they have never made an effort to provide the small courtesy of a thank you without physical presence. But then, neither have my children or my sister. What a family I come from and what children I have raised! It is almost embarrassing to be related to them at all.
Although my husband thinks I may be a little premature, I have decided to change my will so that, in the event my death precedes his, not a single token will be endowed to any member of my biological family. None of them deserve it. None of them would consider the intrinsic value of a bauble for the non-financial value I have placed on it. None of them would understand in the slightest why I have put any value on such a trifle. None of them are the type of people I consider worthy of inheriting an iota from a clearly eccentric relative. Not any more, anyway. My Family, on the other hand, will appreciate even the smallest token of what I have to give–mostly because they know and understand me so well. To them, my eccentricities are lovable–or at least tolerable–characteristics. They love me for who and what I am and are willing to accept my flaws as well as my charms. That is why to me they are Family as well as friends. The best part is that they understand my lack of phone usage, which I wrote about in a previous post. (sigh)
Here is the important part: I am more than the sum of my parts. I am stronger than my biological family take me for. I may not have achieved all that I set out to do; I may not have been whatever mythical person my biological family thought I should be; I may have not become the person aimed to be when I was much younger. But I like most of the elements that comprise me, and I continue to try to improve those things I do not like about myself. I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and I will be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I love people for who they are, not for what they are or what they have or what they can do for me. Those people who have hurt me in the past are no less deserving of love than the people who have helped me in the past. There is little enough love in the world, and I will continue to love my family because they are my family, even though they have shunned me as effectively as a fundamentalist religious clan blots out the existence of an excommunicate. However, I will no longer make any effort to communicate with family who clearly wishes to not communicate with me. They are in the past, and there is nothing more that I can do to open lines of communication–especially since I am not the one who closed them.
And I am surprisingly quite comfortable with that.
It has been twelve days since I returned from a six-week trip back to the States. At the age of 64, it is merely a page of a tome. I went “home” for a variety of reasons, including medical, family visits (especially a family wedding!), and escape from my current home–not necessarily in that order. Upon returning, I am finding myself pondering my children’s lives and lifestyles, the differences among family members and what they consider important, climate differences, and my own bumbling trek through life. Mostly, I have been trying to examine just who I am, how I got to this place in my life, and where to go from here.
During my trip, I made two major mistakes: the first is that I didn’t journal; the second involves my daughter, but that will be the subject of another post–titled along the lines of “The Making of the Shrew”, or “Daughter Dearest”. That I didn’t journal and that I’m taking so long to put my observations and experiences in writing concerns me most because I don’t know how accurate my recollections are any more. Inaccuracy might be a good thing, though. I might be able to inject humor into the few complex situations that fell into my path!
The obvious things I’ve discovered–or re-discovered–about myself are the following: capability, awareness, and the ability to love (among other things). I am fully capable of traveling on my own, even with excessive luggage. My spinal stenosis, spreading arthritis, and general weakening of muscles gets in the way of my desire for full freedom of action and movement, but it is not so debilitating that I lose all sense of independence. One thing I have learned is to accept help somewhat more graciously than I have in the past, and that there are always wonderful people willing to help an old woman when she is obviously baffled and at loose ends. Long ago I discovered that there is always at least one Good Samaritan in even the most ignoble throng. During my travels, my faith in humanity was not dimmed, but strengthened. Trust in the basic goodness of people, and even a frail ole lady can travel the world.
Awareness is more than knowing where things are and who is nearby. It is also the quality of understanding one’s often disruptive role in a host’s household or hearing the unspoken words and noticing the climate of a household or environment. I learned to listen to the spoken and unspoken words of my grandchildren, all of whom are in disrupted households. I learned to notice when accommodating me into a routine was becoming stressful on my children–not always right away, and not always correctly, and probably not about every situation, but enough times where I recognized that I have my own set of expectations and habits that are less conducive to behavioral change. Interestingly, although I found my children’s households to be devoid of a certain amount of privacy, that did not bother me so much as I thought it might. When I unexpectedly stayed with my sister for the final few days of my trip and when I visited a close friend in Lubbock, TX, I had a room to myself where I could retreat if I so desired. However, what I learned even in the latter two places is that a bedroom is nothing more than a place to sleep and hold one’s belongings–much the way I generally treat the bedroom in my own home. I like to be in the middle of family members and friends; my preference is not to be alone, even if the company is pets. My very early years made me an observer, and there is little to observe when one is alone in a room or dwelling.
That “love is a four-letter word” has always been an incongruous and trite observation to me. What is love? Why do we feel love? How do we feel love? What do we mean when we say to people, “I love you”? I have learned that love is more than a feeling of comfort and more than a necessity for close human relationships. For me, at least. I love my children, even if I don’t particularly like one of them (back to the daughter later). I love my grandchildren, even those that are grandchildren by marriage or living arrangement, as each is a delightful individual with a unique personality and set of talents. But why do I love them? Loving is not the same as being in love, yet we utilize the same word to describe both the affection we have for family and friends as well as the for the draw and excitement we feel for a romantic partner. For those of us who have lived beyond the age when sexual attraction is an issue, the difference is between genuine caring for an individual and lustful stirrings. But if that is the case, why do I say that I love certain people while merely liking others? Where do we draw the line? At what point do we say “I care about this person but not so much about another”? What I learned about myself is that I can love a person fleetingly as well as long-term. I met people on this trek of mine with whom I made instant connections. I cared–and still care–about them, even knowing that I will never encounter them again. It had nothing to do with what they could do for me. In several cases, I “did” for them rather than the other way around. I encountered people who were traveling home, people traveling to new and exciting destinations, individuals who were starting a new life chapter or closing one, etc. Each was instantly stirred affection in me for different reasons. I met these people in airports, on planes, at ticket and store check-out counters, in lines, at kids’ sport functions, in restaurants–in short, everywhere I went. To say I instantly liked everyone is far from the truth. For example, I found myself disliking an individual at an airport security check-point in Midland, TX, because he confiscated an item of “contraband” that I had overlooked while packing. The item was a butane lighter that I was given as a gift. The lighter had been in my purse when I passed through every single check-point: here in Sint Maarten, in Miami, in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conversation that took place over this lighter at the Midland-Odessa Airport made it obvious that the security person liked it and planned on keeping it. There was no point in arguing about it as I was wrong to be carrying it in my purse, but I found the blatant “thievery” obnoxious enough that I could find nothing to like about the person. And that makes me think that love involves trust. Can you love a person whom you don’t trust? And what makes me believe that all the other people I encountered were/are trustworthy? Is it deviousness that makes a person unlovable to me? Did I find my grandchildren instantly lovable because there was already a family connection? Or do I love them because of their candidness? Is it primarily people who are disingenuous that I dislike and for whom I feel no affection? Is the fondness I feel when I meet new people love/affection or something else? How different is love from like? What do we mean when we say we like a person? Why do we feel–I don’t know–elated or warm or warm-fuzzy for some people but not for others? All I know is that I feel genuine fondness for people whom I don’t almost instantly dislike. To me, that is some sort of love. I also know–now–that there are very few people for whom I feel no love.
So this Li’l Ole Lady is finding much to contemplate about her life, and is finding more and more resources to discuss in future posts. And I had better get those thoughts down as quickly as possible, before they fade into the general pool of life experiences…