WHAT AM I MISSING?

Working backwards from Gen X, I must be Gen W. My parents were Gen V. With the turning of the earth, we Baby Boomers are now {trumpets and drumroll} the “Older Generation.” When did that happen?

I’m not entirely sure how it became our job to “understand” younger generations. I am of the opinion it is their job to understand us. They might learn a few things.

My 6th Grade class.

Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their forties. No longer young, they are an odd bunch. Many grew up convinced they had a date with destiny, that their birthright was The Good Life. Some realized achieving the good life would require work and education, but a big percentage didn’t get that message. Or, on hearing it, felt it had been incorrectly delivered. It was clearly meant for someone else.

I did my best to be a role model for the work ethic. I strove to be good at my job.

As a group, many people of my own and previous generations were obsessive about doing good work. Whatever we did, we did it wholeheartedly. As a generation, boomers believed in education. Were sure work would redeem us. We expected to be grunts before getting promoted.

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Thus you can imagine with how much trepidation heard my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father, and Garry.” If he had been the only one from whom I heard these or similar words, it would not have been so alarming.

Say what? I realized — finally and rather late — that there’d been a serious, generational disconnect.

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The “success will come because I want it” thing did not work out well for Gen X or Y.

My granddaughter’s Gen Y group seems focused on personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do stuff which they don’t enjoy is a bully. An abuser. What nonsense.

Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. Ultimately, Generations X and Y won’t have parents or grandparents to run to for comfort and a quick loan. Unless they re-evaluate their direction, life is going to prove a huge disappointment. We want the best for them … but they have to make it happen. It isn’t free. Everything has a price tag. Pay up front or later, but pay you will.

On the positive side, if you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work. Maybe that’s the most important part of the missed message.

DON’T STOP LAUGHING

Everything and everybody changes, but recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. Have they been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

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What can you do? When the light at the end of the tunnel really is the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor, and I’m a goner.

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I laugh any time I find a reason. At anything that strikes me as funny, which isn’t always appreciated by other people. I even laugh when I’m alone (weird, right?). It reminds me why it’s worth staying alive.

My friends make me laugh. I make them laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

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The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laughter is the antidote for everything. Try it. It’s a cure.

SPODE’S TOWER

Blame it on my upbringing, the odd traditions of my mother’s family. Basically, we say “I love you” by giving each other stuff. All kinds of stuff. Art, furniture, gadgets, clothing, books, whatnots. We were never a touchy, feely, huggy family nor verbally effusive. We rarely said “I love you.” I’ve had to learn to say the words. I’d still rather buy you a present.

spode's tower plateOver the course of life with my family, I got clothing (used and new), pottery (ugly and uglier), jewelry, paintings (“No, really, it’s okay … you keep it … please!”) and whatever else came to hand. If someone had a sudden unplanned attack of the warm fuzzies, they might give you the nearest small object — ashtray, silver cigarette holder (from my mother, who never smoked), old souvenirs from Coney Island, empty cigar boxes (Uncle Abe). No wrappings or bows. Spontaneity precluded amenities. It was my family’s version of a hug.

One time, my dearest favorite-est aunt gave me the coat off her back while crossing 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It was mid-winter in New York and definitely not a good time to be coat-less, but I had said I liked it and she needed to express her love right then and there.

“Please, Aunt Kate,” I cried, hoping the people swirling around us didn’t call the cops, likely thinking I was mugging my elderly aunt. “I am wearing a coat. You gave me this coat years ago. I wear it all the time. I love it.”

Which only made it worse. “That old thing,” she cried. “You need a new coat.”

“When we get home,” I promised. “You can give me the coat at home.” And she did. And I wore it. For many years until it fell apart. I knew I was wearing her love and it kept me very warm.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I bought a box of odds and ends from a little shop on Bethlehem Road. They had been cleaning out their back room. They said “We don’t know what’s in here, but you can have it for five dollars.”

I took the box home and began to sort through it. I found tiny carved ivory elephants, amber beads, buttons from dress shirts, old agora and a green, crusted thing I was going to throw out until a friend said “Hey, that’s an old coin.”

I stopped. Looked at it. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“That’s what old coins look like,” she said. “Soak it in lemon juice for a few days and see what happens.”

I soaked it for two weeks and it still looked like a piece of green crusty metal. Finally, using a toothbrush and copper cleaner, I extracted an ancient bronze coin, circa 77, the second year of the First Jewish War Against the Romans. The date was on the coin in old Hebrew script.

I had the coin appraised at the Rockefeller Museum. It was the real deal, but not worth a fortune – maybe a couple of hundred dollars, if I could find a buyer. So I turned it into pendant and wore it on a ribbon. When my mother came to visit, she admired it. Of course I gave it to her. When my mother died, my father gave it back to me, but it disappeared. I suppose it will turn up someday in another box of odds and ends and become someone else’s treasure.

You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something you were going to own it. There was a hideous pottery owl that looked like its eyes were bleeding. Chartreuse with scarlet eye sockets. I was caught staring –and had to say something. It was a masterpiece of sculpting, but the overall effect was gruesome. So I said: “It’s … really interesting.” It was, in a ghastly way.

“It’s yours!” cried my mother. I detected a note of triumph. I still harbor a suspicion she had gotten it from some other family member and was just waiting for the chance to move it along. Tag, I was it.

The ultimate example of family love en passant were the dishes. It was my fault. I started it. I bought them from a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. Eighty-six pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus saucers … and a set of saucers without cups. In pretty good condition, all for $30.

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It turned out to be Spode’s Tower. The dishes were old and delicate, so I never used them fearing they’d get broken. They stayed in the closet and gathered dust. Years passed.

One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car. She loved them, but they were old and, it turned out, valuable. So she put them away and never used them. One day, my Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need any more, the days of big dinner parties being long over.

My mother didn’t need such a large set either, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s old china. Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place, because they were old and valuable and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave it back to me and we took it home. She had saved them all those years. Of course, I never used them. I eventually gave them to Owen and Sandy who had the sense to sell them. They knew they would never use them and neither would anyone else.

Love can be wrapped in paper and carefully protected. There is love. There are dishes. And there are memories of my family, carefully stored, ready to be given. To you, if you like.

ROCKS. BOULDERS. LIFE.

A rerun (with editing) from 2013. Shorter. Pithier. No less true.

Asking for help is easy. Getting it may not be.

I don’t mean getting someone to review your post or help you carry a heavy box up the stairs. Those are easy things, no big deal. You’ll happily do such things for anyone, even a stranger … and they for you.

What about when you can’t manage the basic stuff of life on your own anymore? When a bag of groceries is too heavy? When a flight of stairs looms Everest?

Ask you family for help? They’re busy. Maybe they can find a little time around Thanksgiving. Or New Year’s.

“But I need help today!” The silence is deafening.

Growing older has plenty of good, solid reasons for fear. Real issues of being left to the care of unfriendly strangers, unable to manage day-to-day tasks are more than a little scary. There’s nothing psychological about them.

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Everyone would rather not need help. Universally, people prefer self-sufficiency. When that’s no longer an option, the world has a frozen, dark look. It’s not your world any more.

There are boulders in the middle of your life. Immovable. Huge, heavy, solid. Waiting.

ON THE EDGE, OFF THE LEDGE

What keeps me on the edge, but off the ledge? Dogs. Friends. Writing. A new camera and a good lens. A husband who is always a challenge. A movie that makes me laugh.

Speaking of Garry (were we?), he likes to hang around on ledges. He’s an edgy, ledgy kind of guy.

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Me? Not so much. I prefer not to tempt fate. Curiosity keeps me going — and safely off ledges. I want to be around to see whatever is coming next.

Survival is nature’s way of keeping the species going. We survive because. I don’t think we need a reason to follow our instinctive need to be.

As for edginess? “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” Getting through any day is quite a balancing act.

On the edge …

ALL OUR YESTERDAY’S

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

Whether or not it’s a tale told by an idiot or a slightly less stupid narrator, I doubt there’s an action anyone takes in their life (assuming they’ve made it to adulthood) which is not in some way shaped by past experience. What other point is there is “learning the hard way?”

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the hard way seems pretty much the only way. That’s the way my life has gone. If someone has found an easier, less bumpy path to learning how to live, would they please be kind enough to tell me?

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Is your life in shreds? Out of work? Homeless? Hiding from the repo guy? Other half dump you? Bank threatening foreclosure? Don’t take it personally. It’s a joke. Your debacle is life’s way of pointing out how little control you have over your fate.

No weeping. No one likes a cry-baby or wants to hear your sad story. Unless you turn it into a funny story. Then everyone will listen.

The first time my world went to pieces, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me because I promptly married a guy infinitely worse. After that fell apart, I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless — back to the USA. When I stopped feeling like I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry, which I should done in the first place. Except he hadn’t asked.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and calamitous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery and disaster fuels humor.

Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is that tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses. Comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just timing and style. Funny stories aren’t funny when they happen. Later they’re funny.

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Our personal traumas are collateral damage in the battle to survive. Mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your pals. Something to look forward to.

So no matter how bad things are, not to worry. Black depression will ebb. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic you will call “normal.”

Life trudges on. Everyone will point out: “Life doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” You have my permission to whack anyone who says it over the head with something hard and heavy.

DO OVER

What Would You Change?  by Rich Paschall

If you could do your life over, what would you change?  Would you choose a different career?  Would you choose a different house or apartment?  Would you consider living in another town?  Another part of the country? A foreign country?

Would you travel more?  Would you see other towns, other regions, other countries?  Do you have adventures that remain unfulfilled?  Do you wish to do more exciting things?

Here’s a big one for you to consider.  Would you change your mate?  Would you have more or fewer children?  Would you stay single or get married, depending on what you current circumstance is?

Many people like to say that they would not change a thing.  They would do everything the same way.  Some say this defiantly so, as if defending the life that they have led.  It may be just a front, however, for some family or friends.  Would we really do things the same way?

No matter what we insist to others, we all have made mistakes that we regret.  Would we not change these mistakes, if only we had the chance?  Would we not make better choices if we had the chance to choose again?

Do you recall the statement you said you wish you could take back because it was insensitive?  Do you recall the gossip that you took part in, only to realize later that it was just a way to put down a coworker, neighbor, or family member that you just did not like at the time?  Wouldn’t the passage of time make us wise enough to refrain from such things?  If we took part in these things with the knowledge of our lifetimes in front of us, would we not take a different course?

Perhaps you have seen the article, frequently reposted on social media (I have seen it a number of times, anyway), that talks about The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. These were collected by a nurse and published in a book.  It is summarized on Collective Evolution website. The list, of course, indicates that if these people could live their lives again, they would not take the same paths.  When they looked back from death’s door, there was plenty to change.

Top on the list was having the courage to live your own life, rather than that which was expected.  As we grow up, there are expectation of parents, grandparents, other family members, teachers and community about what we should do in life.  Our roles are frequently defined by others and we, as loyal children and friends, take the path expected of us.  Would we now decide on “The Road Not Taken?”

Every male patient regretted that they had not worked so hard.  They missed family events or other adventure while they worked extra hours.  From the perspective of the end of life, the choice was clearly a wrong one.  Yes, many need to work harder to support their family, but did we choose work, when another choice would have been better on a particular day?

Many wished they had the courage to express their true feelings, or that they had stayed in touch with old friends, or that they allowed themselves to be happier.  Perhaps they regretted all of these things.  So I ask the question again, what would you change if only you could?

If time and health are on your side, then you can still do many of the things you missed earlier.  You can still make amends for bad choices, thus undoing some mistakes of the past.  Of course, we can not now change everything, but that is no reason to be sad about the past.  We can use what we learned to move forward with better choices.

I think the desire to make up for missing some things in the past is one of the emotions that gives rise to the “Bucket List.”  Of course, you may put things on the list that are new to your thought processes, but how many of the things you would list would actually be things you feel you missed out on in the past?  Is there some adventure you should have pursued in the past that you can still do now?

While there are many decisions I regret from the past, and some that I regret now actually, I have one basic problem with a “Do Over.” If I had made different choices in the past, would I still end up in the same place? You see, there are many things about the present I like as they are.  If I had gone a different route, would I eliminate some of the things I like about the today?  Would some of my close friends be missing?  Of course, I would not know they were missing if I had gone another way.

Friends meet up in Strasbourg

Friends meet up in Strasbourg

My jobs in recent years have allowed me to make new friends in other countries.  In fact, one of my best friends lives in France.  We have travelled to France, Germany and England together as well as much of the USA.  I can not now imagine a life that does not include him.  I never thought of these travels or friendships when I was young, so I could not have consciously made the choice to end up where I am.

Because of my love of my current adventures and friends, I guess I really do not want a “Do Over.”  I just hope the knowledge I have gained from past mistakes will allow me to make better choices in the future.

From where you are right now, do you wish to go on with the knowledge you have gained, or would you rather have a “Do Over” realizing it may take you to a different place?