Saturday, June 23, 2012


Now that that politics rules the airwaves, I have a question.  If you had a genie grant you the wish to be President of the United States or some other version of "sort of ruler of the world," would you accept it?  Would you want it?  Or would you flee from it as fast as you could and throw the magic lamp in the ocean?

I personally never understand why people actually seek positions of power.  Ed once read a science fiction novel that portrayed American presidential elections in the distant future.  The country decided that the best president was the one who didn't want the job.  So the leaders drew up a list of the best and the brightest - wise, intelligent people from all over the country, and interviewed them all.  The ones who were eager for the job were crossed off the list.  The one who truly disliked the idea the most was the one they put in office.  (I assume they had lie detector tests or something similar to assure the reactions were legitimate.)  The premise was that no one in their right mind would want to hold a position of that power, and anyone who wanted it had to be...well, crazy.  The person who didn't want the job would be the best in the job.

I tend to laugh at politicians who are asked but decide not to run for high office.  Their reasons are so in keeping with their sense of what they should say.  "I'm satisfied as a senator, thanks."  "It's not the right time."  "My family is not in favor."  "I have health problems."  "I want more time to gather support."  OK.  I'm looking for the guy or gal who can be honest and say, "I'm honored you want me to run for President, but that job scares the crap out of me!!!"

I served on a local jury several years ago.  It was intriguing, but frustrating.  I hardly had the ability to choose my outfit for the day, never mind deciding the guilt or innocence of another human being.  The power was too great, the risks for error too high.

With power comes responsibility, and therein lies the conundrum.  I will freely admit I don't want the responsibility of running the country and making decisions about the economy, jobs, environment, and warfare, while simultaneously trying to work with people under me who are just as power-hungry and looking out for their parties, their friends, their companies, their positions, their prospects, and their salaries.  I just don't get it.  Why would anyone actually want this job?  It's not a perk - it's a burden.  Actions you take can affect the world.  Who thinks they are up to that monumental task?  If you think about it, anyone who runs for President of the United States thinks she/he is the best person in the whole country to tackle that job.  That's either a healthy ego of a truly remarkable person with vision - or a deluded individual whose quest for power has blinded reality.

Much has been written about how power corrupts.  Even politicians who enter the field for "duty and public service" eventually find the temptations of power too hard to resist, and the survival of their careers so important that ethics can be set aside.  What chance does integrity have against riches, power and privilege?  Sometimes, not much.  Temptation on a small scale is bad enough, but on a grand scale can ruin lives quickly and infamously.  Someone who thinks that eating sugar is bad but knows it is his weakness should never be in charge of a bakery.  In the same way, an environment that harbors betrayal, bribery, peer pressure, fame-seeking, and shameful secrets may not necessarily be a good choice for certain individuals who are not prepared for the pitfalls of living in such an environment.  Occasionally you will see Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith in Washington rise above the fray, but more often I fear others are pulled into the riptide and drown in the unforgiving waters.

It's Washington that is the seat of power in this country, but I'm not just talking about Washington.  From principals to mayors to office managers on up - with power comes responsibility.  Power demands integrity and power requires wisdom.  We each have to examine our own souls to decide if we have what it takes, and are not just trying to take what it has.

Of course, the kicker in all this is that we have the power all the time for a variety of things.  Every day we have the power to hurt or soothe someone's feelings, the power to lend or refuse to give help, the power to serve or demand service.   Every minute of my time is led by my personal decisions on how to use my personal power.  That, quite frankly, is enough for me.

I don't need or seek to have control over other people.  I wouldn't be comfortable managing a small office, let alone a country.   I don't consider that a sign of weakness.  I consider that a confirmation that I know enough to run away.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Taking stock

So Mom, like Elvis, has left the building.  Unlike Elvis, she is still enjoying life, returning to her familiar routines at my sister's house outside of Memphis.  As I am inclined toward introspection, I felt the need to take some time to take stock.  What things have I learned in the past year my mother has been with us?  What life lessons am I taking from the experience?

1.  Caretaking both difficult and rewarding.  It requires energy, commitment, planning, flexibility, and most of all, patience.  Ed bore the brunt of most of this, as he was home during the day, but I had my share.  My sister, bless her heart, has assumed the reins again for the duration.  Included in this is knowing when to take charge, as I discussed a few weeks ago, when I "became" the parent and Mom the child.  Someone has to be the bad guy once in a while.   It's not a role I relish.

2.  I must, must, MUST take care of my health if I want to have the life I envision.  I saw with my own eyes the devastation that health neglect can take on the body and spirit, and as I want to live out my days with independence and without pain, I have to put this on the front burner of my life.  It is too important to procrastinate about.  I have to eat right and keep moving.  Which brings me to...

3.  I have been taking so much for granted.   We had an extra bedroom, small though it was, which housed the elliptical machine and where I exercised to DVDs.  Once that was turned into Mom's bedroom for a year, I suddenly became aware that I had not used it as much as I should have, and now would be without it for a long time.  We get so used to things being there that we don't think about them until they're not available.  I consider that a wake-up call.

4.  Sometimes you just have to take a chance.  That was what my sister Joy and I did when we brought Mom to Maine.  I called it "pushing the envelope" in a way....making a bet that she would not worsen and pass away, and that her best friend or elderly sibling wouldn't pass away.  Making a bet that she would survive the arduous trip to and from Maine (and that we wouldn't have a wreck), that we would be able to easily pick up her prescriptions in Maine, that she wouldn't get depressed being away from home, that we would have the ability and wisdom to take care of her as she deserved.   During the instances when Mom seemed to deteriorate for a few weeks, Joy and I voiced aloud the heretofore unspoken concern of "are we doing the right thing?" by moving Mom for an extended period of time.  But in my heart, I knew it was necessary, and indeed, it seems to have been a success.

5.  Take time to be with family.  There is nothing more important than to spend time with those you love.  If you could have seen the expression on Mom's face when she interacted with her grandkids and great grandkids - priceless.  It was so gratifying to have been able to give her that experience and to watch it unfold.

6.  Take care of the caretaker.  My sister needed a break to allow her to focus on her family life and concentrate on things she had put on hold while taking care of Mom.  After just a year, I now understand how important that break is.  The caretaker must take care of herself, or the whole thing falls apart quickly.  This is not selfishness; this is survival for everyone involved.

7.  Take a minute to count your blessings.   As it was a blessing for Mom to be here for her, it was a blessing for her to be here for me.   The phone is a wonderful invention, but it's not like talking in person.  You can't hug through it, you can't wipe tears through it, and you can't apply Aspercreme on an arthritic knee through it.  Sometimes you just need the real thing.

8.  Finally, as I posted earlier, it takes a village to celebrate a birthday.  I learned that there are some kind people in this world who will send a complete stranger a greeting card.  Anything that revives or confirms a belief in human goodness is much needed in our society.

So what do I take away from this past year of wonder?  Wisdom, gratitude, and a heart overflowing.  These are life lessons I am happy to receive.

At least, that's my take on it.  Now, where did I put my exercise shoes?

Friday, June 01, 2012

It Takes a Village - To Celebrate a Birthday

Some things you can do on your own.  Sometimes it takes a comrade-in-arms.  And sometimes, well, it takes a whole village that extends throughout the world.

I've documented how our lives were changed when my handicapped mom came to visit us in Maine for the last year.  I've recorded and ups and downs, the surprises, the setbacks - everything that she brought to us by her presence.  When her 89th birthday was approaching, I was stumped.   As I've noted before, the usual gifts one buys for Mom are neglected because "it's too pretty to wear" or some such attitude.  There's very little she needs except food, medicine, assistance, attention......ah, attention.  Hmmm.....  And there begins the saga of Operation Birthday Card.

If you consider it, a great many endeavors in life start with "what if?"  So this is where I started.  What if, I thought, Mom could get a lot of cards in the mail for her birthday?  She never gets mail except for medical bills and her church newsletter.  She craves mail so much that she thinks she hits the jackpot when I bring her the Vermont Country Store catalog from the mailbox.  I can buy her a cake, the family will come by for a visit - yes, all that is going to happen easily.  But how do I get a bunch of birthday cards mailed to her?  And even more fantastic, how do I get cards from all over the country, and dare I think it, even a foreign country or two?

And therein lies the village.  I was intrigued to see if complete strangers would send my mom birthday cards on her 89th birthday.   Were people that gracious anymore?  Did folks really care about a lonely elderly stranger living away from home on her birthday?  I was going to find out.   Once my little plot was hatched, I contacted my sister and my kids.  "Please ask your friends to send Granny birthday cards!"  Then I went online, starting with my medical transcriptionist chat room, my dear "friends," most of whom I have never met in person but whose lives I have been a part of for years now, and asked for their help.  They said they would be delighted!  Theirs were some of the early cards.  I had designated the whole month of May, even though Mom's birthday was toward the end of the month, so she could get cards in the mail in a steady stream.  I instructed everyone to be sure to write down the state where they lived so we could see how far away the cards were coming.

Next I went to Facebook and posted an appeal.  My cousin's wife even reposted my post, so her friends got the message.  I called the offices of both our Maine US Senators and asked if they could pitch in (thanks, Susan Collins!).   I sent a letter to Mom's home church in Memphis, asking for their help.  I sent an e-mail to my contacts who I thought might be willing to participate (again, one leader in the transcription field reposted my appeal on her blog, and again, more folks agreed to send cards).  Then I went to a Prince Edward Island blogger who is known for her stunning island photography (I love her pictures!), and posted a comment, asking if she or any of her friends could drop a card in the mail from Canada.   Finally, I e-mailed Mom's favorite disc jockey, Rick Foster of WDEA AM of Ellsworth, Maine, asking him to send a card (which would have thrilled her just by itself)....and lo and behold, he kindly offered to wish her happy birthday on the air!

So, the cards started arriving.  The first one we got was from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, from a name I didn't recognize.  Mom was a little confused.  "Who is this?" she asked.   I said, "It's a stranger to you!"  She said, "Well, who is it, though?  Do you know her?" and I replied, "It's a stranger to me too!"  Well, that really confused her, LOL, but I basically said that some people heard it was her birthday month and they wanted to send her a card.  She thought that sounded so sweet.  As I did with every subsequent card, I carefully cut the return address/postmark from the envelope, taped it to the back of the card, and hung the card on the wall in her room.

That solitary card was not lonely for very long.  Before long, she got two cards in one day, then three, and one day even got 28 cards in the mail in one day!   After a while, the wall was too crowded, so I took the cards down and put them all in a box.   Every day I added to a list of where the cards were coming from (I'll publish this list below).   With the exception of one beautiful card from Beverly where the state of origin fell off the back of the card, I believe I got every one recorded accurately.   Mom was really surprised to get a few cards from outside the United States!

Every evening when my sister called, Mom gave her an update on how many cards she got, smiling all the way through the conversation.   There were sweet cards, gorgeous cards, funny cards, religious cards, and cards made by kids.  There were personalized cards (one lady sent a card that said "Hey, 9-year-old!" and drew an 8 in front of the 9 so it said, "Hey, 89-year-old!"), a card with the Memphis skyline, cards with wonderful descriptions of where the senders lived, and some people even sent more than one card a week or two apart!  One of the cards that made us laugh out loud was from a boy named Zack.  He is a student in my daughter-in-law's class, and was one of the many handmade card creators from that class.  His card was made on green construction paper, had a red heart, had on the front "Happy birthday!  Love: Zack," and the inside said this in big letters:  "89!  That very cool!"  In another heart were the words "Wow! 89!" and then under that, "I hope you stay alive forever."  (We could tell those elementary school kids were awed by somebody being 89 - it probably sounded like she was 150 in their eyes - one girl even wrote "89!!  OMG!")

My Canadian blogger really came through, as not only did we get cards from Canada, but she knew some folks who lived in other countries, too.   And Rick Foster, the DJ extraordinaire, bless his heart, not only wished Mom a happy birthday on his radio show - he played her favorite song, and then after her birthday, drove out to our house and delivered a CD he had burned with the recording of that tribute and that song for her to listen to over and over.

Every card was a gem, every card was a surprise, every card was so much appreciated - I wish I could mention every name of every person in the global "village" who made my little idea a reality.  You blew me away with your kindness - the kindness of family? Of course! The kindness of friends? Very gracious and much appreciated!   The kindness of strangers?  Unbelievable.

Mom is going back home to my sister's next week.  The box full of birthday wishes will accompany her; it is a most treasured possession.  Thanks to you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and especially YOU......

Here is the final tally as of June 26 (will be updated if need be!):

Alabama (Mobile, Huntsville)
Arkansas (Sherwood, Little Rock, Jacksonville)
Arizona (Scottsdale, Cave Creek)
California (Redding, El Dorado Hills, Corona, one unspecified)
Colorado (Ft. Collins)
Florida (Coconut Creek, Hernando, Pensacola, South Daytona, Panama City)
Illinois (Lockport)
Indiana (Mishawaka)

Kansas (Overland Park)
Kentucky (Bardwell, Versaille, Paducah x2)
Louisiana (New Orleans, Lafayette)
Maine (Fairfield, Old Town x2, Madison, Winterport x2, Glenburn, 19 from Lewis Libby school)
Massachusetts (Oxford)
Michigan (Troy)
Mississippi (Olive Branch x3, Tupelo)
Montana (Billings)
Nebraska (York, Omaha)
New York (Scotia)
North Carolina (Knightdale, Thomasville, Monroe)
Oregon (Eugene x2, Gresham)
Pennsylvania (Sugar Grove, Bethlehem, Freeland, Grove City)
South Carolina (Cheraw)

South Dakota 
Tennessee.....(Memphis x36, Eads, Cordova, Franklin, Arlington, Nashville, Murfreesboro)
Texas (McKinney, Corpus Christi)
Utah (West Point)
Virginia (Chincoteague)
Washington, DC (US Senate, the White House)
West Virginia (Chester)
                              Out of country:
England (Warkwickshire/ Droitwich/Blackpool)
South Africa
Wales  (Llandovery Carms)
Canada:  Montague, Prince Edward Island (PEI) / Williams Lake, British Columbia / Vernon Bridge, PEI / PEI nonspecified x2 / Belfast, PEI /

Manila, Philippines

28 states plus Washington DC, 6 countries
136 cards