Big Birthday Memory #19: Thanks to the Man Who Sent Me to BlogHer ’06 and Now It’s ’14 and I’m Still Showing Up

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from August 2, 2014.

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In 2006, I was working with David Aylward and the National Strategies firm.  He doesn’t know this but there’s a story (If you know me you know there’s almost always a story.)  We had a client who wanted to reach parents.  David hired me to help and I had this big idea about making a parent website to promote them.

David sort of said “What about these blogs I keep hearing about? Would that be better?” I knew so little about blogging that I had to go look it up online. I found a story about this little conference in San Jose called BlogHer, meeting for only its second year. David and I convinced our client that I should attend this mysterious event and off I went along with fliers for our product and real curiosity about who these women were and what they were up to.
Cindy and Kelley cropped2 Me with jenn pozner smaller

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Cindy and Sarah G cropped

 

 

 

 

 

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Shebooks blogher 14Stacey and cindy cropped

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what I received – from BlogHer 2006 and every one since:

1.   Access to an entirely new world of remarkablewomen (and men too.)   Including ( a little bit of a yearbook list) Elisa Camahort Page and Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins and Morra Aarons-Mele and Cooper Munroe and Emily McKhann and Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase and Asha Dornfest and Jennifer Burdette Satterwhite and Mary Spivey Tsao and Danielle Wileyand people I haven’t mentioned here (Sorry – some I’m notcompletely sure who I met in 2006 and who later.) Feels like I’ve known you all forever as well as Sarah Granger and Kelly Wickham and Jill Miller Zimon and Joanne Bamberger andStacey Ferguson and Cynthia Liu and Anita Sarah Jackson andJenn Pozner and  Cheryl Contee (and and and)  And that doesn’t count the new (to me) folks like Sharon Hodor Greenthal!.

2.  An entirely new way to communicate and create.

3.   More fun than a barrel of groovy blogger women knew they could deliver. And – here’s the reason I’m writing this post at all:

4.   Another decade at least of being part of and participating in the new parts of the world – online and on screens, instead of watching from the bleachers.

Lots of boomer women have joined me and the other early birds each year and I am certain they feel the same way (I’ve asked several and besides they’ve written about it.)  At a time when many of our friends are settling into a more and more peer-centered life, we have the gift of having broadened, rather than narrowed, our world and hearing the voices of women we never would have known about, much less known for real. So David, thank you for the gift of my entry into this universe and for the imagination and vision that opened your mind to its possibilities.  It’s a beautiful place to hang out and I’ll always remember who sent me through the door.

Big Birthday Memory #18: Want a Feminist Son? Tips From a Veteran

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. This one appeared on BlogHer on January 19, 2011

Running Boys

“So Dan,” says I, “What would you think if the woman you wanted to marry decided to keep her name?”

“Well mom,” says he, “I don’t think I’d want to marry a woman who didn’t want to keep her name.”

He was around ten then (he’s 30 now), in the car with us, listening to his dad tease me, as he has for years, that he “wouldn’t have let me” have his name if I did want it.  Not a serious discussion of male oppression exactly, but humor teaches lessons too.

Someone asked me how we raised feminist sons.  I don’t have a checklist.  And if I were to respond seriously, I’d start with something really corny: teach them to respect people – all people.  The elevator man.  The bus driver.  Their best friend’s mom.  The guy at the candy counter.  Their friends.  Their parents’ friends. Their baby sitter.  They were Manhattan kids, but they were raised to think of the feelings of every person they met.  Of course, that meant all women, too.  That was an advantage.

Oh, and we respected the two of them right back.

In the families they knew, most of the moms worked as hard as the dads.  Since moms at home were an exception, they were used to two-income families.  The daughters of these moms, the girls they went to school with, wouldn’t put up with much nonsense, either.  That also helped.

We preferred offering choices over fiats.  Most boys go through a Playboy phase.  Call it curiosity.  When the magazines began to stack up behind the old-fashioned radiator in our bathroom, we didn’t seize them.  We talked about what it must have been like for the women in the pictures and how their parents might feel.  I may have said (of course I said) that it offended me, but if they wanted to keep buying Playboy, they’d have to pay for it from their allowance and keep them all put away.   Eventually the fever broke and the magazines disappeared.

Boys Hug

I also changed the endings of a lot of stories I read to them when they were really little.   No princess was given by her father to the guy who solved the riddle or won the quest in our versions. (I also had to change stories like Mr. Poppers Penguins because of terrible racial stereotypes, by the way)  We read Harriet the Spy and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great as well as Encyclopedia Brown and Superfudge.

Also, back then when it was new, we listened to Free to Be, You and Me  until the tape wore out.  When we did come across unpleasant images of women on TV or at a movie, we talked about them.Those movie moments were also “teachable moments.”  As any parent knows, those scenes can enable a dialogue that might otherwise be impossible, whether it’s about smoking and drugs, bullies, sex, or the partnership between women and men. They’re always popping up; not just in entertainment but also on the street, with family and friends, and in easy conversations.  We made the most of those, too.

I’ve sort of written things down here as I thought of them and now as I reread this, I realize how much I’ve focused on image and media.  I guess that’s because those sorts of opportunities were overt and therefore highly productive tools.

The modeling that went on at home was also critical of course.  We were nowhere near as exemplary as couples are now in their parenting and household equity.  It was the 70’s and 80s.  Even so, we were very aware of the issues we needed to pass on and both worked to do it. (For a more contemporary look , try The Feminist Breeder, who, in a consciously egalitarian marriage, describes her own thoughts on raising feminist boys.  or Penguin Unearthed as she offers her own perspective.)

Our boys, from when they were little, learned to cook, iron (that was our babysitter, not us), do their laundry and clean the kitchen.  They made their beds (mostly) and helped out at our parties.   Each has always had close friends who were girls, and later, women.  They still do.

Boys on Boat

As I conclude though,  I return too to the concept of respect.  If you are steeped in a respect for all people – not as a political habit but a deep, personal value, it’s a lot tougher to use your maleness to seize control of a household, a family or a workplace.

Finally, beyond all the values and logistical and modeling issues lies a fundamental fact.  A child who is well-loved and respected is far more likely to accept the values we choose to pass on, and that underlies everything else.

 

Big Birthday Memory #17: They Will Campaign Against Us Until We’re All Dead – and Maybe After

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from July 9, 2008

From the day Richard Nixon was nominated in 1968 until Tuesday afternoon, forty years later, when John McCain began running this “Love” commercial, Republicans have been running against us.  All of us who share a history of opposing the Vietnam war and working to elect an anti-war president.  Against everything we ever were, believed, dreamed, voted for, marched against, volunteered to change, spoke about, created, sang, wrote, painted, sculpted or said to one another on the subway or the campus or anyplace else from preschool parent nights to Seders to the line at the supermarket.

How is it possible that what we tried to do is still the last best hope to elect a Republican?  They used it against John Kerry.  They used it against Max Cleland.  They did it every time (well, almost) they were losing policy battles in the Clinton years.  They called CSPAN and said unspeakable things.   And now they are using the history of people my side of sixty to run against a man who was, if my math is right, seven years old during this notorious “summer of love” which – I might add, had nothing to do with those of us working to end the war.  In fact, there were two strands of rebellion in those years.  The Summer of Love/Woodstock folks and the political, anti-war activists.

Leary_nyt_cropped_2At the 1967 National Student Association Convention in Maryland, I saw a room full of students boo Timothy Leary off the stage, literally.  We didn’t want to “turn on, tune in, drop out” we wanted to organize against the war.   The anti-war movement was not a party.  I know that’s not a bulletin but it is so hard to see all of us reduced to a single mistaken stereotype.  Those who chose to find a personal solution weren’t nuts; communes and home-made bread were a lot more immediate gratification than march after march, teach-in after teach-in, speech after speech.  “If you’re goin’ to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”  Tempting, romantic – and not us.

Even more painful is the fact that the cultural and political divide is still so intense that research (I assume) told the McCain guys that this commercial would work.  That our patriotic, committed efforts to change our country’s path, and the cultural alienation that drove others toward the streets of San Francisco, combine to become a stronger motivator than all the desperate issues we face today, this side of those 40 years.  Perhaps even worse, these Bush years have dismantled so many of the successes we did have, so that in addition to facing, yet again, this smear against the activism of 1968 (and I repeat, that wasforty years ago — longer than most of the bloggers I know have been alive) there’s the awareness of what we did that has been undone.

I need to say here that I grew up on the shores of the Monongehela River in Pittsburgh and my classmates were kids who mostly went into
the steel mills or the Army after high school.  I knew plenty of supporters of the war.  I went to prom and hung out at the Dairy Queen with them.  But it never occurred to me to demonize them, to hold against them their definition of patriotism.

I’m not writing off or looking down upon those who did support the war; I’m saying that this cynical, craven abuse of the devotion of people on
both sides to the future of their country is reprehensible and precisely the kind of behavior that has broken the hearts of so many Americans, on those both sides of the political spectrum, who just want their candidates to lead us in hope for what our country can be, not defame others whose dreams aren’t quite the same as theirs.

Big Birthday Memory #16: (More 1968) Obama, Clinton, New Hampshire And Primaries – 1968 And 2008

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from January 8, 2008.

McCarthy and Cindy wide2In the 1968 New Hampshire primary, 40 years ago, Senator Eugene McCarthy got 42% of the vote running against Lyndon Johnson .

That was enough to be viewed as a win, since no one thought he’d get anywhere close to those numbers.  That  victory by the only national politician with the guts to run against the Vietnam War sent a shock through the Democratic Party.

McCarthy’s effort, often called “The Children’s Crusade,” was comprised largely of college students (including me) who abandoned their studies to come to New Hampshire and work to help to stop the war.  Now, as I watch Barack Obama, and see the the numbers of young people propelling his success, I know just how they feel — and what awaits them if they fail. 

Then too, win or lose, things will be tough for Senator Clinton. Obama, seen not only as a change agent but also as someone who offe

That’s exactly what happened in 1968.  The New Hampshire victory brought Robert Kennedy into the race – establishing, until his tragic death, a three-way battle – two dissidents against the juggernaut of the Democratic establishment.  Then later, Hubert Humphrey, candidate of that establishment and for years, as Vice President, public and energetic supporter of Johnson’s war, won the nomination.

To all of us, he had stolen the nomination.  Many (not me) were so bitter that they refused to vote for him.  (2016 NOTE: Let’s not let this happen again! That reluctance led to the election of Richard Nixon and all that followed.  Think how different things would be…) Remember, for most of us, as for many of Obama’s young supporters, this was our first presidential campaign.  Hillary Clinton, should she prevail further down the line, will face the same broken-hearted campaigners.  Once the anti-establishment, anti-war student and Watergate hearing staffer, in the eyes of these young people she’ll be cast as the villain.

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For evidence of how long that bitterness lasts, take a look at this quote from the American Journalism Review, from the 1968 Chicago Convention recollections of veteran Washington Post columnist  David Broder.  It’s about me – but it’s also about any young American who takes a stand and loses .

He recalls coming into the hotel lobby from the park where demonstrations were underway and spotting a woman he had first met during the Eugene McCarthy campaign in New Hampshire. “Her name was Cindy Samuels,” Broder still remembers. “She was seated on a bench crying. She had been gassed. I went over and I put my arm around her and I said: ‘Cindy. What can I do for you?’ She looked up at me with tears on her face and said: ‘Change things.’

NOTE:  As I searched for links for this post I found a David Corn piece saying much the same thing.  I want to take note of it since the ideas came to me independently but I didn’t want it to seem that I drew from his.

Big Birthday Memory #15: John Kennedy, Barack Obama, 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers

jfk inauguration1NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from May 8, 2014

I seem to be living in the Way Back Machine this year.  Lots of memories of 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet another looms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

See that crowd?  Somewhere, way in the back, probably at least a block beyond, stand an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snow on the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasure Building.

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled  back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.

JFK Inaugural tickets So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived
around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integration soon after,) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander-in-Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home.

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.  After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change

 

Big Birthday Memory #14: Life and Death on the Coast of France

Mont San Michel sized
On the approach to Mont San Michel

 

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from May 8, 2014.

It doesn’t look at all real – I know that.  But it is.  It’s also a place I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember.  And here we are.  Here we are!  The sweet, formidable beauty of this place is matched only by its astonishing history – as a monastery, a prison and a target, from ancient times to the carnage and suffering of D-Day.

Mt-Saint-Michel has, for more than a thousand years, stood atop the rock upon which is was built.  Its timelessness is much of what attracts people, I suspect, along with its ice-castle beauty and the awesome commitment of its inhabitants:  the sacrifices made by these men on the mountain top, alone, virtually silent, with nothing to do but pray and take on their assigned chores, meditate and live out their lives in as holy a way as possible

SMEglise ike diorama crop
Ike sends US troops off to the D-Day invasion of Europe that helped win WWII.

Nearby, the small town of Saint-Mère-Élgise  and its museum await  the summer celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and its remarkable exercise in vision, courage and grit.  This diorama of General Eisenhower’s last visit with the men he was sending to fight and die  is a moving one.  Anyone who has ever seen his 1968 conversation with Walter Cronkite knows how well the General understood that half of those he sent out on D-Day would never return.

SMglise resistance
Resistance Armbands
SMeglise death book crop
Prayers to say if death is near; provided by the military

One group of special heroes and heroines represented  at the museum were the Resistance – women and men who parachuted behind enemy lines, worked with local opponents of the Reich to complicate their war and, at great personal risk. transmitted by hidden radios everything they learned about their German enemy.

Aside from their real-life-spying, they also served in special, high-risk, low profile operations, commemorated in history, in films and in novels.  I often used the Resistance stories and the children running messages and doing other support work as a way to engage our sons in history when we traveled.  The drama and courage, and relevance, was and still is irresistible.

What you see here another of the profoundly moving exhibit items at the museum.  Look carefully; it’s a page of prayers to support young soldiers dying in the field.  Breathtaking as you stand among the photos of these young men and see how wise it was to offer them this comfort, and wonder if today’s military is inclined, or allowed for that matter, to provide similar comfort.

In all, the life of the monastery and loss that surrounds the beaches of Normandy really are bookends to how we live our lives.  Life and faith, war and peace, courage, sacrifice, defeat and victory.  It is the greatest gift of travel when these things present themselves and we   remember how fragile, and how wondrous, the privilege of being alive and aware really is.

Big Birthday Memory #13: Best Friends Forever

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from November 17, 2007.

cindy and janeThere we are – Jane and me on her porch one summer during college.  Friends since Brownies, we’ve always had a warm, respectful and sturdy relationship, interrupted by years at a time but never diminished.  Recently she sent photos of a family reunion – her four kids and their spouses and all their kids. And some things she had written.  Beautiful things. Especially about her parents.  I knew them well; I spent so many Saturday nights at their house, even going to church with them in the morning.  They never ate breakfast before Communion but Jane’s mom always insisted that I eat something even though I was going with them  After all, I wasn’t taking Communion so why not?.

cindy_and_jane_yearbookA “nice Jewish girl” in a mill town suburb (here I’m on the right and Jane on the left,)I had no Jewish friends; Jane, Catholic, was my dearest.  What might have been a huge cultural gap was just a curiosity; differences in our lives but not in how we felt about one another.  We’d always sworn to be at one another’s weddings; I’ll never forget her beautiful one in the cathedral at Notre Dame.  Years later, when it was my turn, Jane was living in Dallas and already a mother; she just couldn’t make it.
Then, just days before our wedding, she called.  “Do you still have room on that boat of yours?” (We got married on a boat.)  “I have to keep our promise- I’m coming!”  It was so great and meant so much.  Just as she knew it would.
That was 36 years ago; almost twice the age we were when the top photo was taken.  But it doesn’t matter.  The blessing of shared memories — of remembering each other’s parents and the Girl Scout trip to New York and her first love, who died in Vietnam — and mine, who ran off, perpetually stoned, to Santa Barbara —  those memories make her part of so much of who I was and who I’ve become.  What a gift to me that the one whose friendship blessed me was so blessed herself – generous and fine — helping me to be what she knew I had to be when I wasn’t sure myself what that was…not at all.

Big Birthday Memory #12: Oh Those Candles! In Honor of Shabbat (Posted Before)

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from March 16, 2007.

shabbat candles sized

One of the great gifts of an observant Jewish life is the lighting of Sabbath candles.  At a prescribed time each Friday, 18 minutes before sundown, it is the obligation of the Jewish woman to light candles as a symbolic acceptance of the Sabbath upon herself.  The prayer is said AFTER you light the candles because once they’re lit, the Sabbath rules – ignite no fire, do no work etc. preclude the lighting of a match.

Here’s how it works: you light the candles, move your hands above the candles three times to bring their warmth toward you, then cover your eyes and say a simple blessing.  It’s in Hebrew, but it means “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us with his commandments, and enjoins us to light the candles of Shabbat.”  Yes,the words of the prayer are plain; women say them in every corner of the earth – educated or not, every week and have been doing so for thousands of years.  Many of us add prayers of our own, for those we love, for peace, for the lifting of burdens, for a better world.

I always take a very deep breath — the kind they taught us when I was quitting smoking — and exhale very slowly, releasing a lot of the stress of the week before I begin.  One of my friends told me that when she was in medical school and having babies at the same time, she’d weep, every week, as she felt the burdens fall from her in the glow of the flame.

Makes sense to me.  Something about this ritual is transporting.  I also love the idea that this is a woman’s privilege.  Much has been written about what observant Jewish women are NOT permitted to do – and much of it is true.  That’s another conversation.  But the impact of this particular duty is profound, beautiful and serene and I am grateful for it.  So, as we move toward the close of this day and toward what I have found to be the true peace of the sabbath – I send to you, whatever your faith – a peaceful wish — Shabbat Shalom.

Big Birthday Memory #11: Remembrance of Things Past – Tom Jones and So Much More

Albert Finney and Susannah York as Tom and his love Sophie

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 17, 2007.

Not to be too obscure here but think about this: Marcel Proust’s REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PASTwas inspired by the scent of one cookie (a fancy one called a Madeline.) Sense memory is a powerful thing.

I saw Tom Jones 44 years ago, with my high school “film club.” The club was just 6 seniors and our creative writing teacher. Our mill town high school wasn’t a culture haven but this young teacher was. He handwrote Irwin Shaw short stories onto “ditto sheets” because there was no budget for the books, started a literary magazine (I was the editor, naturally) took us to Shakespeare performances and — started the film club. At first we rented films (screened on a projector in his classroom) and then moved on to evening journeys “downtown” to local art houses. We saw LA STRADA and THE SEVENTH SEAL, SUNDAYS AND CYBELE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER — and TOM JONES. The films were so intelligent, so clearly different from the “movies” we saw on our own; the theaters served espresso andeveryone was smoking. How sophisticated we felt!

This morning as I watched this nearly half-century old film – still funny and charming even though the playful sexual innuendo recalls a more tender time, that 18-year-old girl I’d been came back – all of her. I didn’t know whether to be sad — miss all that I was then – all that’s changed — lost — or just plain passed – or to be grateful for the remarkable kaleidoscope of experiences that my life has been. From the adventure of a 36 year old marriage to the joy of raising two of the most spectacular young men on the planet to presences at royal weddings and presidential inaugurations, travel all over the world and great music experiences to a gentle childhood with talents acknowledged and appreciated to memorable private moments at weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other celebrations with family and friends, a lot has contributed to the wiser woman I am today. I know there’s no way to live the life I’ve lived – or any other – without losing some of the shiny stuff of youth but even so it’s a shock when awareness of those losses lands on you in the middle of an unambiguously optimistic movie 44 years old.

Here’s what I think: there isn’t a person on the planet (despite Edith Piaf) who has no regrets. Recalling days that seem idyllic is a privilege – many haven’t got many to recall. Sadness about the joys of the past emerges only from an accumulated reservoir of happiness that is a blessing in itself. As Auntie Mame used to say“Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” My sisters and I swore we would live by that.

I’ve tried – and I’m still trying. That’s why this blog is called Don’t Gel Too Soon. Wherever that 18 year old film fiend has gone, parts of her are still part of me – informing and enlivening the person I’ve become. The real challenge in this portion of my life is to hang onto the enthusiasm and curiosity of those years – never freezing in place. The last line in Tom Jones, one of my favorite anywhere, was written by John Dryden – way before movies or even radio. It still works though, and I offer its wisdom for us all. “Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

Big Birthday Memory #10: Grey’s Anatomy, Bruce Springsteen, Memory and Me

Fade Away Mountain Lake

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 23, 2007.

Research shows that I’m hardly alone in this, but I have a deep and abiding fear of disappearing into the fog that is Alzheimer’s disease.  I’m approaching my 61st birthday, which, these days, is young.  Horrible to contemplate, but NOT old.  Actually even for the last generation it’s not much – my dad lived to be 78 and my mom 80.  So even in WWII generation terms, I’d have a good crack at at least 20 more years.  And when I think about dying I really worry more about the sadness of those I love than anything else.  No one wants her life to be over, but unlike many of my friends, including those far younger, I’m not terrified.

Alzheimer’s is different though.  If you read the statistics, the odds are pretty scary for all of us.  Today the New York Times reports (actually I think a little late – if you don’t have Times Select try this story on amNewYork) on a new awareness program by the Alzheimer’s Association.  Here’s the video(short.)  That’s good.
Azheimers_kate_burton_jKate_and_meridith_3

It even includes Kate Burton, Meridith Grey’s mother (Grey’s Anatomy for those of you not (Grey’s Anatomy for those of you not addicted already.)  Her character, in a series of almost unbearable episodes, suffered from Alzheimer’s.  There is so much written about this disease and the risk to our nation’s future, one person at a time, but if the documents are to be believed research is far behind potential.

As usual it’s a question of money.  And I know I should care about that.  I guess I do.  But what’s tougher for me is to face, almost daily, the small memory losses and forgetful moments of aging and not fear that they are all connected to the disease.  People my age even joke about it – calling it “old timer’s” disease or “senior moments” but all it is is awful.  To lose a word, see know the star of a classic film and not be able to retrieve the name, work a crossword puzzle (recommended to maintain brain “muscles” and besides I love them) and KNOW the missing word somewhere in your brain – but no place where you can get to it…. it’s all terrifying.

Think about it.  Spouses who’ve shared years of generating memories suddenly seeing you lose yours; knowing daily that your access to those moments is disappearing.  Children who’ve struggled to build strong and independent lives burdened with the emotional obligations created by a wasting disease in a parent.  Friends self-conscious and uneasy on visits they know they should make – if they even have the strength to make them.  Can you imagine anything worse – except the painful, protracted ending that cancer often brings?

As I write this, random thoughts wander through my mind.  Most dominant are lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen (of course) song.

I don’t wanna fade away, Oh I don’t wanna fade away, Tell me what can I do what can I say, Cause darlin’ I don’t wanna fade away.

Yeah it’s about the end of a love affair but it’s playing in my head as a kind of Alzheimer’s anthem so you have to listen too.

The other things are really corny but right now I think I need to be corny.  This one is part of what we read at the beginning of our wedding almost 36 years ago:  In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.  It’s from William Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life.

The other is from Our Town.  And I know it’s old fashioned and sentimental.  But as I look this terror in the eye, I know it’s what I have to do to keep it at bay.

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe–they do some.

I guess the answer to all this is to aim for the saints and the angels.  Nothing is going to prevent the future from happening; not faith, not love, not Hogwart’s magic, not even the miraculous gift of children.  So each day I need to be as present as I can.  Whatever happens it’s a blow against the unknown and a prayer of gratitude for the privilege of being present and aware.