Tuesday, July 28, 2009

And the Beat Goes On

I’m sure it was collective deja vu for most of us when the Michael Jackson death media coverage started. News stations were in a conundrum concerning which picture of Michael Jackson they should use for a graphic. Young Michael? Older Michael? Dark skin? Fair skin? Afro or silky straight hair? Before, during, or after plastic surgery? It reminded me so much of the controversy surrounding the creation of the Elvis Presley postage stamp. I think they even took a poll - would we rather see young, fit, dashing Elvis in jeans, or old, fat, Las Vegas Elvis in a rhinestone jumpsuit?

Which picture was the real Michael Jackson? Which picture was the real Elvis? Neither - and both.

There is not really a way to get a complete snapshot in time of anybody. In the instant it takes to press the camera button, our bodies are busy transforming - old cells dying, new cells regenerating, catabolism, digestion, repair. Each second the arteries get older and probably more sclerotic. Hair is falling out. Hair is growing. Cells are aging. Things like blood pressure, temperature, pulse, electrolytes, and hormones are constantly fluctuating from one second to the next to try to maintain homeostasis. It’s like the old joke: What time is it? 2 seconds past 3:15... no - 3 seconds...no - 4 seconds...make that 5 seconds... As soon as we try to freeze time, another second has passed and things are different. And today was tomorrow yesterday, and tomorrow will be today the next time we wake up in the morning. Past, present, and future are all blending in together roaring down in a waterfall and we can’t even tell them apart.

Our brain is involved, too, for every experience we have changes us in some way. While I was in Memphis last week, I couldn’t turn off an alarm in my niece’s bedroom where we were sleeping, so I just unplugged the clock (which was plugged into an electrical strip on the floor). As I was rising up, my upper arm hit the corner of her dresser top covered with a glass protector - and immediate pain was the result. I knew I would sport a lovely bruise by the next day (I did) which would last for several days (it is), and I remember thinking to myself, what did I expect, I’m such a klutz, why can’t I watch what I’m doing, etc. I changed that fast through that experience - One minute, I had no bruise, the next second, I had an injury and beginning bruise, and the next second, I was reminded yet again of how clumsy I am and how prone I am to injury. I realized before this that I was a klutz, but every time I demonstrate that fact, my brain sort of underlines it. Again and again. In a split second, I changed my physical, mental, and emotional landscape.

I got to walk down Memory Lane on this trip to Memphis - but Memory Lane has been primarily demolished and rebuilt. It’s true you can never “go home.” Old is replaced by new. Oh yeah, the Luau Restaurant used to be there. How long has it been gone? Let’s see, over 30 years, because our 35th wedding anniversary is next month, and eating at the Luau was one of the “to do” things on our honeymoon list and they closed it before we got around to it (that’s why we say we are on a perpetual honeymoon - we never finished the to-do list).

It’s not just buildings, of course. The people have changed. My mom is older and more feeble than when I saw her last. So are my aunt and uncle. My cousins and I stood around at a visit in my sister’s home last week, and no matter what came up in conversation, it was usually followed shortly by one of us exclaiming how old our parents - and we ourselves - had become. Where did the time go?

I look at pictures of myself through the years. Which is the real me? None of them - and all of them. One of the harder parts of aging is the realization - and acceptance - that we will never look that young or fit again. It’s easy to see that we have changed physically. But also emotionally, spiritually, mentally - and those things cannot be illustrated in a photograph. I think it’s true what they say - that, although the fat and wrinkles and gray hair, dimming eyesight and hearing, teeth problems, memory loss... wait, this is depressing... What I mean is that although the signs of aging are attributes we fight and curse, the wisdom gained in that exact same timeframe makes it all worthwhile. Even with some forgetfulness and “body adjustment problems” (klutzopathy), I feel a mental, spiritual, and emotional clarity at 54 that I never felt years ago. I feel by this time I have gained some insight into my priorities and the importance of forgiveness, patience, kindness, generosity in my life. Every encounter I have had so far in this life journey - whether it’s singing in an opera or listening to the cashier at the grocery store - has given its unique print on my life. The hurt I have given people has changed me, and the hurt others have given me has also changed me. Incredibly moving events have changed me. Things I hear on the news have changed me. Births, deaths, weddings, and divorces of friends and family have changed me. Old photographs document just a small portion of those changes. I may say that I’m not that 19-year-old in the wedding dress anymore, but I’m also not the 54-year-old smiling in the photograph with Mother and sister Joy this past Sunday, either; indeed, one second after that picture was taken, I had changed again.

So if you want to ever put me on a stamp, I don’t care which picture you use. It will be only a facsimile of the real me. (Thank goodness!)

Friday, July 17, 2009


One of the worst human emotions is the feeling of helplessness, being out of control of your own experience and destiny. The global economy and current financial crisis is doing its share of exacerbating this. As a medical transcriptionist, I’m seeing more and more patients come in with depression concerning this frightening state of affairs.

Of course, I generally am an optimist by nature. Sometimes I have to work at it though, like overcoming my panicked anxiety about flying. Then I have to rise above my basic fears and start thinking logically. I am so happy I was able to do that last year.

There are self-help books everywhere telling us to seize our unlimited power to be able to control our own lives. A cursory search of Amazon.com yields titles such as Take Charge of Your Life Before It Takes Charge of You; Take Charge of Your Mind; Take Charge of Your Money Now!; Take Charge of Your Thoughts; Take Charge of Your Health....and on and on. It is true we have the power - more power than we ever dreamed. Scientists are still discovering all the capabilities of our brains and bodies have to do incredible things. We should take control of our lives, our health, our money, our environment, and whatever else we can assume responsibility of.

I think sometimes, though, we get so caught up in the quest for control over our lives that we forget there are some things beyond our control. That’s reality. As my favorite prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to change the things I can, accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’m a great planner and organizer (not such a great carrier-outer, though!) and I like to keep control. I want to control my health, my time, how many lines I transcribe a day, etc. Sometimes I need a reminder to just let go of the rope and drop the tug-of-war game.

Flying does this for me. The only way I learned to fly without a panic attack was when I accepted the idea that, while I’m up there, I have absolutely no control. It’s that simple. When that sinks into my brain, I stop fidgeting, stop incessantly worrying, and find that calm center in myself that I didn’t know I could have when I’m 30,000 feet up going 500 miles an hour.

I’m flying today again, so I just had to write about this to remind myself. Control is good, but life’s reality is that we can’t control everything. That’s where acceptance comes in. So I take a deep breath and here I go...Memphis-bound!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Just call me Grammy

Tomorrow night is a special night for me: 6-year-old Caroline is coming to spend the night with us for the first time. Oh, she and her parents lived with us for a short time years ago when their house was being built, but she was just a toddler then, and her parents were there, too. Now it will just be Ed, me, and Caroline for a whole night.

When I first became a grandmother, I realized that I had never really had a grandmother role model. My paternal grandmother was a diabetic, half-blind old lady who lived in the room at the back of our house. She used to come out for birthday celebrations when my sister and I were little, but then she “took to her room” for the rest of her life, keeping her room dark, and all the interaction I had when we got older was catching glimpses of her down the hall, usually of Daddy trying to get her to take her medicine.

My maternal grandmother was anorexic, although they didn’t know about eating disorders back then, and she was hospitalized for most of my growing-up years. We traveled the 2-hour drive to see her every other weekend, take her out to lunch, etc. I remember that she loved to brush my waist-length hair, but a lot of the time she was confused or anxious. I don’t remember when she was younger and emotionally/mentally healthy.

When I became a mother, I finally got to see a grandmother in action, as I watched my own mother build a relationship with my kids. That was a fulfilling thing to see, but it’s not the same as being a child and forming your own idea of what a grandmother should be, how she should look, what she should do, how she should act - from a child’s point of view.

So through the last 6 years, I have had to figure out my own role as grandmother, and that includes learning to share the grandmother role with the other grandmother, who is a couple of decades older than I am. “Nana” has been a wonderful grandma for the kids, and we never try to compete, but instead use our unique talents and gifts to shape our own relationships with the girls.

Sometimes I wonder what Caroline and Charlotte (and any future grandkids from son Matt and his wife, Sarah) will remember about me. One day, they may write down their memories as I do. Maybe they will recall my playing the harp, or my making them Halloween costumes, or my love of Lincoln. Or, it may be just everyday things - things I can’t plan and can’t control, but things that will end up having sentimental meaning for them. Sometimes you can’t make memories; sometimes you just provide the environment and let them happen.

So, although we will take Caroline out to eat tomorrow night, and although I have a new book I’d like us to read together, this visit will be mainly unplanned and spontaneous. As a grandmother-in-training, I will pour out the love, hugs, and kisses, then sit back and let Caroline take the lead. I can only plant the seeds, and I’m sure I will be fascinated to see what comes up!