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Archive for the ‘Growing old’ Category

I have a serious problem with aging, that is, I don’t particularly care for it. “Exercise,” they say, “you’ll feel better if you exercise.” That’s wonderful, so I exercise most mornings during the week and at least one of the weekend days. Yes, I feel better after exercise, but it doesn’t last, this euphoria of having busted my ass riding a friggin’ bicycle. Within an hour or so, I’m ready to climb back under the covers and sleep the day away. But that’s not the proper way to do things either. The whole thing leaves me somewhat confused. Am I tired because I’m old, or am I old because I’m tired? Ask the question of five doctors and you’ll probably receive ten different answers.

I believe it was the late Andy Rooney who said, “It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.” Getting old seems to mean that what one thought of as a pretty good body and mind begins to deteriorate too fast for one to actually comprehend. “So how does this aging process work?” I ask myself. The first answer that I receive from this wonderful Internet of ours is, “The human body goes through a variety of changes as it gets older. In general, muscles, blood vessels and other tissues lose their elasticity. The heart becomes less efficient, bones become weaker and the metabolism slows down.” Aha and eureka, that explains why I can no longer bench press the weight I did when I was 60 or even 70. It probably also explains why I get up so often in the middle of the night to pee, but that’s a bit of information overload that no one really wants to hear about…discussions of my bladder are rather…well, you know. As far as my heart’s efficiency is concerned, it, hopefully is as efficient as six stents will allow it to be. I find that my heart rate on the bicycle I ride appears to be getting lower and lower, which, as I understand it, is a pretty good sign that all is well.

It’s really just that getting older is a pain in the arse, as the Brits might say. My mind tells me that I should be getting the garden ready for planting, yet when I step outside, the very thought of mixing peat moss, manure, and garden soil exhausts me, and I have to sit and rest. It is written in Matthew (26:41) that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” This fits my situation on the one hand, but on the other, it does not. Jesus thought that his disciples should be praying rather than sleeping. My mind tells me that I should be doing one thing, but my body asks, “Are you kidding me?”

I remember back to the days when our kids were in elementary school in Newton. My late wife and I were part of a team of parents that built a new playground for all of the children. Actually, it was the men (and this is really sexist!) who moved the heavy truck tires and screwed all of the giant timbers together. Joan and her colleagues were busy preparing the pot luck meal that we would enjoy at the end of a hard day. And it was a hard day, but the playground was great, the kids enthralled by their new things to climb on, swing from, and slide down. The meal was terrific, and the soreness went away in a couple of days. Today, the very thought of tackling such a project is enough to cause me to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep…even dreaming about doing such a ridiculous thing makes me tired. As Mark Twain once remarked, “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.”

The good thing about aging is the very fact of doing it. Many are denied the opportunity to do so. Therefore, I guess that I am somewhat blessed to be 82 and still writing, reading, crafting, and exercising at the local gym. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy the quote from best-selling American author, Brandon Mull…“The curse of mortality. You spend the first portion of your life learning, growing stronger, more capable. And then, through no fault of your own, your body begins to fail. You regress. Strong limbs become feeble, keen senses grow dull, hardy constitutions deteriorate. Beauty withers. Organs quit. You remember yourself in your prime, and wonder where that person went. As your wisdom and experience are peaking, your traitorous body becomes a prison.” Yes, I still dream of hand-over-hand on the monkey bars, being able to press 200 pounds, doing the 50 pushups that I could do when a drill sergeant screamed, “Drop and give me 50, pig shit;” but those days are long gone. It’s nice to dream about what was, but it’s wise to remember that those are just dreams.

My real dream now is to reach 90. It’s the age at which my Mother said her last goodbyes, and it’s a nice round number. I see all of these ads now that promote new cancer drugs that enable those with that terrible disease to live longer. I have to ask, “Why, why would you wish to live longer if it means that your quality of life is shot to hell?” I prefer to have a good quality of life, free from pain, for a shorter period of time. As one wag put it, “I want to slide into Hell with a martini in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a horny blonde in my lap, and shout ‘Wow, what a ride!’” Of course, in my case, I stopped smoking and drinking a long time ago…and I really don’t remember…what’s a horny blonde?

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I am a man, just a man. I bear the burdens of all other men. I have the flaws of all other men. And yes, I even have some of the assets, skills, and intelligence of all other men. I have seen my grandparents die, and I loved them both. I have watched cancer kill my Dad, and I loved him. I loved my Mother, but we had quarreled over a period of time, and I was not there when she died. I watched my wife die at home of the same disease that killed my father. I loved my wife as only a spouse can over a fifty plus year period. I still speak to her every night as I’m quite certain other spouses speak to their own loved ones who are deceased. Love is love is love, and loss is loss is loss.

There is one loss that I have not experienced, nor do I believe I could ever survive. It’s the loss of a child. Yes, Joan and I lost three children before our first was born. However, these were miscarriages. We never knew our child or even its gender. Our first is now in her fifties and has three of her own. Our second is a year behind her, and he and his spouse have three of their own. Our youngest is also blessed with three. If any of these twelve people died, I know I would soon follow. The spouses? Yeah, they’re great, but they aren’t mine. My children are mine. My grandchildren, strange as it may sound, are mine…and I would die.

Where am I going with this? I’m going where, perhaps, I should have gone a long time ago. We see on television and in the newspapers that this 16-year old was killed walking on the railroad tracks, and we, or at least I, wonder, “What the hell was he doing walking on railroad tracks…oh, well.” And I think little more about it. Then my eldest calls and asks if I saw the news. “Oh, shit,” I think, and she goes on to explain that he was the only child of a young woman I knew very well when she was a student. She goes on to explain that the boy’s uncle and his wife were at dinner with my daughter just a couple of nights before. I knew the uncle, too, as a student. Then it dawns…what are these people going through? What could possibly be said to comfort them? The answer, of course, is nothing. There is nothing you can say to someone who has lost a child. There is no “closure,” oh God, how I hate that word. “Closure” implies to me that something good is going to come of what happened. A child is dead, not just that, but in this case, an only child, and I sincerely doubt there will be another for this family. What will they do? What can they do? How the hell will they get through the rest of their lives together? Will this make their bond stronger or will it turn into a blame game ending in divorce and two more lives destroyed? Pause for a moment and consider this…every time, this young couple sees a train while they’re out driving, every time they hear the mournful whistle of a train as they are going to bed or getting up in the morning, they will probably be reminded of their son’s untimely death. Not a particularly pleasant thought, is it, to have such an obvious reminder of this terrible tragedy.

If this is all too morbid for you taste, tune out now because I’m just getting started. Over 20 years ago, friends of this same eldest daughter lost their first born to SIDS. He was under a year old. I had held that child and then he was gone. I guess I was just trying to be a good Dad when I accompanied my children to the funeral. I remember thinking that I was going to have to be the ‘good’ one, the one who held my family tight as the funeral progressed. Pall bearers carried the tiny white casket to the front of the church. The Mass began. Everything was fine. My kids were weeping and I had my arms around their shoulders in comfort. “Stay strong,” I remember repeating to myself, even though I was fully aware of just how close I was to not staying very strong. Then a soprano in the balcony began to sing Michael Joncas’ On Eagles Wings. That was the end of my ‘stay strong’ period. It’s one of my favorite hymns, and, frankly, I fell apart. When the service ended, it was my kids propping me up as we made our way to the car.

Children who die before adulthood, think of what the parents have actually lost. There will be no pictures of high school or college graduations. There will be no pride of having a son or daughter join the military because it’s something they had always dreamed of doing. For Dads, there will be no walking her down the aisle or the joy of seeing him standing at an altar, watching his life partner walk toward him. There will be no grandchildren to love and to hold…and, of course, to spoil rotten. No, all of those things will be denied, and that means that the word, “closure,” is a nothing word. It connotes nothing to the parents who have lost everything.

Perhaps this is my way of saying that I will never, ever, take the loss of a child quite the same again. Whether it’s because the kid was speeding and he/she survived while others were killed, or because all were killed because the 17-year old had found someone to buy booze and was drunk at the wheel. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a child or children who are lost and cannot be reclaimed. The SIDS death mentioned above was, in its own way, favorable in that the couple went on to have two more kids who are now young adults, but that’s just not always the case. So whether it’s a child shot in a drive-by, or a teenager who overdoses on fentanyl, it’s still a child who is lost to this world, and that’s a burden that you or I never wish to shoulder. To every family who has ever lost a child, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it took me so many years to understand the depth of your loss.” May the Good Lord find other ways to bring positive blessings into your lives.

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There was a time when I could be as shocked as the next person over some well-known celebrity’s death, but if you think about it, what the hell, it’s going to come to everyone sooner or later. When your time is up, it’s up, and there’s really not much one can do about it. In the Bible it says, “Oh death where is thy sting; oh grave, where is thy victory.” This is told to us because the Bible says that something better is waiting on the other side of death. We don’t know that for certain because no one has come back and gone on the lecture circuit to tell us how great it is. Why would they? If it’s so great, heck, they’d stay there and soak it up…which is probably why no one has come back. My sister tells me that when she died and before she came back, she saw “sheer beauty,” but then the doctors’ reclaimed her so she’s no help…nah, she’s a good kid!

Many of us have experienced family death. The question is whether it’s been sudden and shocking or a lingering illness that steals the live of someone we loved. My father was rather young when, riding in an open touring car, he lost his biological mother to a train crash. My mother’s folks were not so lucky. They lingered in a hospice facility, side by side, as cancer wasted them away. You might raise the question, “Why were they ‘not so lucky’?” If you’ve ever watched cancer kill, you would have your answer right there.

When Florence Henderson died recently, it got me to thinking. Here was a woman born in the same year that I was hatched. I didn’t really think of her as the “Brady Mom,” but more for the musical shows in which I had heard her. She had a terrific voice, was the voice of the first ‘Fanny’ and, as I understand it, ‘Oklahoma’ was written with her in mind for the lead role. But now she’s gone, and it was just another reminder of my own mortality. She died of heart failure. I’ve had four heart attacks. Makes me sortta wonder.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really fear death itself. My life has been extremely full. I’ve traveled across America from east to west; been north and south and spent time in the places in which I wanted to spend time. Got married to a terrific lady and together we raised three pretty darn good kids. Got them educated, into adulthood, married, and now they each have three. Along the way, I’ve watched the kids set collegiate records, run their own businesses, coach Olympic athletes and, in many ways, do far better than I ever could have dreamed…or done myself. I guess we can all brag about our families in one way or another. I have been twice blessed by another woman whom I love and now, in my dotage, I can look back and say that there are very few things I haven’t done that I truly wish to have accomplished. So, bring it on. Death, you have no sting for me. My sins are many and I may wind up where the sun doesn’t shine and heat is pretty bad, but what the hell (so to speak), I’ll meet so many friends that at least I won’t be lonely. The single drawback will be that my wife won’t be there. She’s in a more heavenly place.

Dying, of course, is a different story. It’s rather like that interim step toward the completion of your goal. You’re born…you live your life…interim step…death. Those seem to be the stages. Perhaps that third step, because of its uncertainty, is the one that I fear. I’ve known several folks who have just gone to bed at night and didn’t bother to get up the next morning. That sounds all well and good but what the heck were they dreaming about when they passed. A former classmate was laying on the couch and didn’t say anything…just rolled off and was dead before he hit the floor. It doesn’t really matter what that interim step is because we will all take it in one way or another.

It might be wise for all of us to pay heed to the words of author Jordan Smith, “When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.”

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“How’re ya doin’?”

“Terrific, thanks; how about you?”

(No answer, but…) “Well, you’re lookin’ terrific!”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? I told this person I was “terrific,” and he looked at me like I’m some kind of liar. If I was doin’ shitty, I’d tell him, “I’m doin’ shitty,” so what’s the big deal. Does he want me to say that my back hurts like a son-of-a-bitch because all of the lumbar vertebrae are self-fused and they can’t even get a bloody needle in to give me an epidural anymore? That my back is so bad that I now have to use a cane to ensure my balance? That there’s no cartilage in either of my knees and when I walk, I can hear the bones rubbing together? That the doctors tell me I wouldn’t survive the anesthesia required for knee replacements? Is that what he wants?

I’ve stopped telling people how old I am when they ask. “Old enough to know better, but still young enough to learn,” has become my standard mantra. It’s either that or “Old enough to know not to make the mistakes of my youth,” that’s another one I’ve used.

I sometimes think that people ask how old you are so they can feel better about themselves. The one that really gets my goat is some young stud or ‘studdess’ telling me they hope they can do what I do when they’re my age. Screw that; I do what I do because I’m not quite ready to kick the bucket yet, and this exercise shtick is what the doctors say will help to keep me out of the crematorium. Someone asks if I’m feeling all right and follows up with, “You look kind of pale.” I just tell them I’m feeling a bit ‘ashy.’ They never get it, but it gives me a pretty good chuckle…at their expense…you don’t have something nice to say to me, shut the f..k up; I don’t need to hear it…particularly at five in the morning.

I’ve learned that there is a singular advantage to using the cane. People hold doors for me, and even old ladies who can walk without aid will defer to me as I enter the gym. At home, I often leave the cane and walk around unaided. Then I bump into a wall or a piece of furniture and remember that the cane is used for a reason…yep, you’re right…not the brightest bulb on Broadway!

I’ve noticed, in my dotage, that I get more hugs from young women than I used to. I figure they don’t think I’m any threat to them any more. They’re right, of course, but oh lord, does it ever bring back fond memories of yesteryear. Hell, I wasn’t a threat to them even then…married at 22, father of three ten years later…I never had the time or the desire to be a threat.

You see, the way I look at things now is this: I have coronary artery disease, but I’ve survived the first four heart attacks and now have six stents in the arteries around the heart. I had an aneurysm in my abdomen that one of the doctors caught before it burst, but it was purely by accident that he discovered it…whew. I say “whew,” because abdominal aneurysms are the tenth leading cause of death in this country…yeah, I was surprised too. I smoked cigarettes for 51 years and have moderate emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to show for it…but it could be a whole helluva lot worse. I’ve managed to get by with nearly 20 surgeries to my credit, and if it’s all the same to those who care, I’d just as soon not have to go through any more. Although I must admit that Versed, one of the anesthetics being used today, is fantastic because it blocks out your memory and is great on pain…yippee Skippy!

The latest episode in this medical autobiography is the one that I guess I’ve been dreading for years. I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes. I don’t know how fast this disease progresses, but for someone whose two great loves are reading and writing, this comes as something akin to a good hard kick in the…backside. However, like everything else, this storm can be weathered. There are always books on tape – I can become a better listener than a reader – and my little blog is so filled with errors that it just means Juli will have to add proofreader to her already endless list of things I ask her to do on a daily basis…as I say, the blog will have a few more errors. I’m certain of this because I know exactly where she’ll tell me to go if I ask her to proofread. Since that may well be my ultimate destination, I don’t wish to encourage more people than necessary to tell me to “do it now!”

Well, that about sums it up from this side of the bar stool. Keep those comments coming. It’s always nice to hear what’s going on in the world of reality.

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Hey, let’s hear it for me…I am now officially old!

I know that I am old because I am now using a walker to get around in the house. I-do-not-like-using-a- walker, but my balance is shot to hell. I’m still in the process of finding out what actually happened that I have reached this stage of my life. Be that as it may, I have reached it. I can always hope that it’s just a middle ear infection – ha, ha, ha – but I fear that it’s just one of those things that can happen when one passes 81 or so.

There is one other thing that could be causing my balance problem. I have changed my diet. When my weight hit 261 pounds I decided that enough was enough. My big meal is now lunch. It consists of whatever I wish to consume. Well, that’s not quite true, but I do limit myself to Healthy Choice meals or a sandwich with chips. Breakfast is a container of fruit in its own juices and a bottle of Nantucket Nectar’s Orange Mango. Then it’s off to the gym. Shortly after getting home, I will have a mug of hot chocolate [with whipped cream, of course!]. At night, I eat a bowl of cornflakes with lots of berries, either blue or black. To date, I’ve lost about 18 pounds. Now, the question becomes…am I eating enough to satisfy my bodily requirements? I guess we’ll learn that soon enough.

But enough about me. We all age differently. I know people who are in their fifties who are already old. They complain of this ailment or that ailment and, frankly, I wouldn’t mind being that age again. It is what it is. We can let all of these aches and pains destroy us, or we can get on with our lives. Sure, there will be things we can no longer do…as well…or at all. Kiss what you can’t do goodbye and look forward to what you can do. Let me give you an example. I was with some visitors one day and showing them our athletic facilities. While on the gym floor, kids were playing basketball, just shooting around. One of them tossed a ball at me. “Hey, Mr. B, show us your shot. So I did. The ball never got within three feet of the hoop. I could blame the suit coat I was wearing or a dozen other excuses, but the truth is, I no longer had the hand/eye coordination to put that ball where I wanted it to go…and that’s okay. I’ll find another sport…or not…that will be more closely aligned with the skills I do have. What I’m not going to do is try to relive the “glory days” when I could shoot a basketball from outside the three-point line and, like Stephen Curry, turn around and head back to the other end of the court because I knew it would go in.
Yes, it is true that as we age, newspapers reduce the size of their type…just for us. And yes, the risers on the stairs are a bit higher…just for us. Add to that, that actors are speaking more softly than they used to, and you have every right to state that you have become old. Personally, I just believe it shows that God has a sense of humor.

As I have passed the four score mark in my life, I also find that I’ve become a racist. Yes, you read that correctly, “a racist.” I have zero tolerance for people who complain that they are being held back by this group or that group. You’re wrong. Get off your ass; find a way to get the education you need and go after the American Dream. You may never achieve it, but you’ll at least have given yourself a shot at it. If you are of a different skin color or have a name that smacks of something different, that’s tough, but it’s nothing more than another obstacle to overcome…and you can overcome it. Others have done it. Black, brown, yellow, or red, it doesn’t matter: If you have the guts to persevere and get up every time some son-of-a-bitch knocks you down, you will attain most of your dream…perhaps not all, but most of it. Don’t believe it? I was unjustly fired from a job when I was 40. I was unemployed for three years. The job I finally found required a seven thousand dollar pay cut. However, the next 20 years on that ‘new’ job brought me more than money ever could; it brought me enjoyment and the ability to do things I never thought possible.

You see, I don’t happen to believe that money is everything in our lives. Sure, it enables us to buy whatever toys we think we want, but life’s satisfaction does not come from the almighty dollar. It comes when you realize that you are doing something that brings you joy. Okay, so you can’t buy the big boat or the summer place in the Hampton’s…so what? Are they really all that important in the grand scheme of things? If you answer yes, I feel sorry for you. I pity you. I’ll pray for you…because that’s not what life is all about. Life is about feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. Life is about offering an “attaboy” to someone with whom you work or receiving the same from a colleague. Life is about planting a small garden in the back yard and watching flowers bloom or picking tomatoes off the vine. Life is finding that one person you cannot live without and who feels the same about you. Life is watching your children grow and because of the manner in which you have brought them up, succeed far beyond what you achieved. Life is just so much more than making money. Yet, that appears to be the criterion upon which we base our illusion of success.

If I sound like Pollyanna, I guess it’s because I have taken the time to reflect on what my own life has been. There have been plenty of ups and downs but in the aggregate, my life has been pretty damned fine. Our three children have certainly surpassed us in terms of their accomplishments. None are in rehab or jail. All are married and raising a trio of their own. Certainly, I wish that my wife was still living but death visits all of us sooner or later. If you’re over 65 – even if you’re not – I invite you to look back and focus on all of the good in your life. Yes, I’m aware that there may be some people who think, in retrospect, that their life really sucked, but for the rest of you…I hope you’ll bring a smile to your face.

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Retirement is not for the faint of heart. There, I’ve said it, and if you wish, I will repeat it…oh, screw that; you can just reread the first sentence. For a while, retirement really seemed a great thing. Go places you’ve never been participate in activities you wish you had had the time to get into while you were working; actually meeting new people and learning about their lives; finding new hobbies that were extremely interesting…for a while.

I’ve said it before, and I believe it’s important to understand that retirement should not be considered as a time when one just sits on one’s proverbial butt and watch as it expands to fill the width of a chair. Retirement is a time when you should be able to do all of those things you cursed about because you couldn’t do them when that nasty thing called “work” interfered. Perhaps, it was a solid round of 18 holes that was played on weekends, but you were positive you could break 90 if only you had the chance to play a couple of times during the week. Maybe it was spending a week touring a national park but that wasn’t possible even during vacation…because you were never able to work in a full vacation. There were a thousand ideas, things you’d do when you retired; when the house was paid off; when the summer place could be put to good use without having to make a few calls to the office while you were supposed to be relaxing. Just wait until retirement. Ah, yes, the things to which you were looking forward without having to worry that someone, anyone would call and ask you your opinion on something or a request to give a couple of hours on a certain project…those would be the days.

The big day arrives and out the door you go. Maybe you think you might miss a few of the old crowd. Promises to say in touch are exchanged; sometimes they may even be kept, but really, those people only serve to remind you of the work you once did, and that’s the thing you want furthest from your mind. You get in those 18 holes every few days, but you find that it’s not as easy to walk around the course as it used to be so you get a cart. That makes the distance between holes a little shorter but the game doesn’t improve the way you thought it might. You learn from your doctor that the pain in your shoulder is a torn rotator cuff and you should probably have it repaired. That will keep you off the course for a while. You continue to do different things. Heck, the surgery means you’ll get a chance to catch up on your reading, but you need new glasses, bifocals this time, and they’re a pain in the ass to use, but you catch on…after a while.

After a few years, the summer place becomes more of a burden than a pleasure and you announce your intention to sell it. This sets up a bit of a dispute between you and the kids…who use it with their children now and who enjoy going there but not the cost of the upkeep. You offer to sell it or even give it to them, but when the chips are down, they really don’t believe it’s worth it. With luck, you sell at a profit, and hope that you can do something productive with the monies you receive, but it just goes into the bank and gets spent in other ways.

As you age in your retirement, one of you gets a diagnosis of a terminal illness. While I haven’t experienced getting kicked in the chest by a mule, it seems to me that getting that diagnosis must feel the same way…except for being longer lasting. The one who is not ill goes from being a spouse to being a care-giver, and I guarantee you, the roles are quite different. If your spouse asks to die at home and you can accommodate that request, do it; no matter what it takes, do it. If you can afford round the clock nursing care, do it. Most people I know can’t afford that, but they can afford to have someone come in one, possibly two days a week…do it. The care-giver is on duty 24/7/365. The illness consumes your live, even unto death and for years after that.

After a while, retirement becomes more of a drudge than a thing of beauty and a joy forever. You get old. Your knees – at least those that haven’t been replaced – begin to hurt like the devil. Your golf game, if that was your big desire, slows down considerably. In fact, there are days when you can hardly wait to get home and lay down. Traveling is more of a burden than a delight, and while the sights are pretty, so is that bottle of Aleve or something stronger.

In his book, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King wrote, “An old man’s body is nothing but a sack in which he carries aches and indignities.” He may have a point, but that same sack carries memories that are so beautiful as to defy some of those aches. English actress, Judy Parfitt, says, “The thing about growing old is you have to accept it – if you don’t, you’ll be as miserable as sin. You’ve got to try and find the few good things about it.” And there are good things about aging. The best of these lies in being constantly amazed at the advances that have been made in your lifetime. Technology, science, medicine, aviation, have seen remarkable advances, and yes, even golf clubs have been improved. When I look at my smart phone of today and think that it possesses more power than the computers that put men on the moon several decades back, I’m both amazed and delighted. When I see photographs depicting other galaxies with planets that are potentially capable of supporting human life as we see it daily, I’m in awe. On and on and on it goes, and in my retirement, as much as I dislike the aches and pains, the things I can no longer do, I am delighted that in the later years of retirement I can see such progress in our shrinking world.

I can only hope for one more thing before I die. If would be truly grand if Boston could get it’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to go through one single year without breakdowns, delays and excuses that are somewhat akin to “The dog ate my homework!”

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Advice…People give you more goddamned useless advice. “Now, when you retire, you should…” “When I retired I had a lot of fun doing…” Bullshit, you don’t know me; you don’t know what would or would not please me, so please, please, please, keep your advice.

I never said that of course. People think they’re doing you a favor by telling you what worked for them; what made them happy. They’re well-intentioned, it’s true, but retirement or the mere thought thereof is sufficiently traumatic. It’s worse, I suppose, if there is some kind of policy that says one has to retire at a certain age. In my own case, I left voluntarily when I was just over 63, recognizing that if I had to wait for two years, I would either have been fired or jailed for assault. I didn’t care for the person that replaced my boss, and I’m the type who tends to speak his mind, ergo, things would not have gone well…for him or for me.

The only good bit of advice that I ever received concerning retirement was this: “Be sure you have something to do that you can do for the rest of your life.” It’s simple and it’s the best advice anyone could ever give. Whatever “it” may be, one should have experimented with it prior to retirement. Few things would have made me happier than to see some parts of the world that my son had spoken of but I knew long before retirement that Florence, Paris, and several other cities would be out of the question. When you have bad knees and a back that’s been through three surgeries, you will, if you’re smart, forget about extensive travel. Documentaries and computer research may not be the same thing, but they can serve a very useful purpose, and if you try hard enough, they’ll fill the bill. Taking up a sport in retirement can only cause frustration and has the potential for injury that is an unnecessary risk. If one is already committed to golf or tennis, great, but to take it up after one retires is a questionable decision.

One of the most interesting things about retirement lies in the question, “How long will I live in my retirement?” If one retires because of illness, great, you have some idea of how long you’ll smell the roses before you’ll smell the roots; if not, it’s a guessing game. Based on my own history, I wouldn’t have bet on anything beyond a few years. Things do have a way of changing as we all know, and I’ve been retired now for damn near 20 years…who’d evah have thunk it? If I was to give advice to anyone about this facet of life, I’d say, “Plan to live to 100; anything more than that’s a bonus; anything less is probably what you were thinking in the first place.” As Dr. Wayne Dyer writes in his book, Your Erroneous Zones, “Look over your shoulder; you have a constant companion. For want of something better, call it your own death. You can keep looking over your shoulder, in which case death will catch up to you more quickly, or you can forget that death is even back there and just plunge ahead.” It’s wonderful advice from a man who appears to know of what he speaks.

Now I’m doing the same thing that I cursed in the first sentence of this little essay. Therefore, let me add this: My advice is just as useless as the next person’s. What I tell you is what has worked for me; you may well say, “Yuck, what an asshole; I would never do that stuff,” and that’s fine, but, and it’s a major but, it is imperative that you not sit back on your ass and watch television all day. This will kill you probably faster than anything. Your body goes to pot; you get into the snack thingie, and the next thing you know, diabetes comes a calling. I became a member of a gym. In addition to the physical exercise, I’ve made a number of friends. They are people with diverse backgrounds and they have become my teachers. I’ve learned philosophy from a man who was the headmaster at a private school and who still teaches there. I’ve learned about plumbing from a man who has his own company. I’ve learned travel first hand from a woman who travels all over the world and returns to share her experiences. The learning tree at the gym has more branches than one can count…and it’s like a “workout classroom.”

I’ve also learned the joys of gardening from my companion, Juli. We have both flowers and vegetables, and although the growing season is short in New England, there is plenty of time for salad-makings, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, radishes, and croutons…of course you don’t grow croutons, ya damned fool…I was just testing you.

Writing has been a wonderful outlet. There are over 950 essays on this site. Some are pretty bad; others, at least in my alleged mind, aren’t half bad. The two in which I take great pride are She is Gone and The Final Epitaph. While they won’t win any Pulitzer or Peabody Awards, I’d like to think that they show some depth of thinking on my part. Therefore, if you find the idea of writing about your own experiences or any piece of fiction with which you can have some fun, go to it!

If you happen to be a reader, get a Kindle or some other tablet.  Sure, turning pages and the smell of the paper are great, but the Kindle or Nook are lighter and carry more books than you’ll probably read in a lifetime. Pick up a craft; real men can do cross stitch and latch hook and lapidary [look it up].

Retirement means, as a friend told me, that you’ll be able to spend more time looking at the useless catalogs and second class mail addressed directly to you or just to ‘resident.’ It also means that you can now take the time to smell those flowers everyone used to tell you to do when you were working. They do smell pretty darned good. Whatever you elect to do, keep busy, have more than you can accomplish, and listen to a few good jokes every day. Laughter is food for the soul so laugh often and laugh ‘til you cry!

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So I get this e-mail that asks the only thing that is ever on my mind, “Are you suffering from facial wrinkles and sagging skin?” Hot damn, I’m 80 friggin’ years old and you have the audacity to ask me a question like that. If I’m that age and I don’t have those problems, I wouldn’t be able to move my mouth to answer because my plastic surgeon’s work would be completely undone when my face split open. What, are you crazy? These people show you pictures, one of an old woman with a frown, wrinkles, and hardly any hair. They say, “She is 70, but now…” and they show you the after picture with her hair slightly tinted and looking marvelous, and a not so subtle airbrush job, with the lady smiling, and they add, “…she looks 40.”

She’s 70 and she looks 40; so what? Who cares? What’s your point? Are we looking for a massive ego boost here? You are what you are. Face facts; you’re freaking old. It’s not how you look; it’s how you feel. There are days when I feel 80; others when I feel 50. However, if I tried to do at 80 what I used to do at 50, (a) I’d probably have a heart attack and die; (b) if I didn’t die, the doctors might from laughter; (c) every muscle in my body would ache for months, and (d) I’d finally realize just how old I really am and would wind up a quivering mass of tears in a straight jacket somewhere. No, this is just not acceptable.

A man I know just died of a massive heart attack. He was 69 years old. A fine physical specimen of a human being; looked to be the picture of health; took a long walk every day; had a marvelous outlook on life…he died. He didn’t reach 70; he died. “So what?” you ask.  “So what,” is forgetting about trying to be something that you’re not. If you want to be a 70 or 80 year old beauty queen, that’s your business, but frankly I’m more interested in what’s inside your head and your heart than I am about how you look. If you’re a man and you want to look the way Jack La Lane did when he died at 92, great; more power to you, but I’d be more impressed if you could intelligently discuss the latest book that you had read or how you see the crises facing the United States in the next ten years…of course, if you’re 92, maybe you aren’t too worried about the crises facing the United States in the next ten years; five maybe, but not ten!

Our hangup with external beauty is probably what’s wrong with a great many Americans. We are so concerned with the exterior that we forget to look at what’s inside. Whether it’s the physical beauty of the person, the exterior bells and whistles of an automobile, or the phony promises of politicians, we don’t take the time to search for what’s below the surface. Then we wonder why the physical beauty turns out to be a bastard or a bitch-on-wheels. We go ballistic when the automobile that we thought was so perfect suffers a recall because its this, that, or the other thing will cause it to be a potential death trap. And as far as the politicians are concerned, there is one rule that one should always, always follow…Anyone who wants to run for political office should never be allowed to do so, no matter what they say or promise. This holds true generally at the state or national level. Someone wants to run for school committee or town council…well, maybe not so much…but keep an eye on them.

Would I like not to have a gut or flabby boobs or still be able to run up and down a basketball court? Sure, of course I would. Would I like to still wear a 42 long suit jacket and have a 32 inch waist? Who wouldn’t, but I’m also very much aware that I’m one of those who suffers from furniture disease. That’s when one’s chest sinks into one’s drawers. I’ve had enough surgeries on my knees and back that instead of being six, three as I was in high school, I’m now just over six feet tall. My metabolism has slowed sufficiently that I now weigh a hundred pounds more than I did when I wore that cap and gown to receive my diploma…and that was for my undergraduate degree.

We cannot prevent the ravages of time. If we’re fortunate enough to have the time to ‘suffer’ them, we should consider ourselves very, very fortunate. There are many people who didn’t get that luxury for one reason or another. Forget the facial wrinkles and the sagging skin. Be proud that you’re still walking around and that you wear both as badges of honor. Do you love? Have you compassion? Can you see…perhaps with a bit of help from your bifocals? Do you hear…eh, maybe not as well as you’d like, but what the hell. Can you walk down the hall or across the street or through the grocery store? Can you smell the flowers of spring? If you are possessed of these blessings, you’re ahead of the game.

Forget trying to be what you were. Welcome what you are and what you will be.

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Writing about something is not the same as knowing about something. I have always admired good reporting as well as good fiction. John Powers of The Boston Globe was a hell of a writer when he was covering sports. John is a huge man, towering over me, but his insight into what took place at almost any sporting event made the reader feel that he or she was actually in the arena, not as a spectator but as a participant. My dear late friend, Bob Parker, was a wonderful fiction writer who drew the reader in from the first sentence and kept the reader enthralled until the last period was place.

I am about as far from a John Powers or Robert Parker or any of the wonderful writers we read on a daily basis. Like many of you, I struggle to gain and maintain the reader’s interest. It shows in that, if really lucky, I have two or three readers a day. It’s an ego thing, and I’m the first one to admit it.

Think about everything that is happening in the world today. We still have stupidity in Washington, with a President who feels he can do no wrong…and he’s wrong; a Congress now controlled by a single party, but I don’t see much taking place other than the Keystone Pipeline which is just going to line a few more pockets of the one percent; our judicial branch is, at best, confused about which issues belong before them and which should be left to the states for a final decision.

On the world front, we have the horrible executions of the French satirists at Charlie Hebdo and the assassination of four police officers by known radicals who were allowed to walk the streets freely and who got the martyrdom that they desired after their horrible onslaught. Sure, I could do my research online and read everything there is to read…like over one million articles, most of which are as accurate as would be teats on a bull, but that doesn’t give one the right to put together an accurate Reader’s Digest condensed version. Perhaps the most odious and despicable post-episodic thing taking place now is the race between al Qaeda and ISIS over who takes the “credit” for committing this hideous act. Is it fodder for the writer in me? By writing about this crime, I merely lend credence to the fact that no one, anywhere in the world, at any time, is safe from these half-crazed lunatics who are exercising their childhood fantasies of killing with no more respect for the beliefs of true Muslims and the Quran than the Bible-thumping idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church have in their beliefs about Christianity.

So what is left for me, in the few years I have remaining, to garble about? Should I talk about the 2016 race to become the next sucker in the White House? I have finally – gad, but it took a long time – figured out why smart people don’t run for president…their egos are not large enough, or as Clint Eastwood once put, “A man just has to know his limitations.” The really smart person allows the puppet to become the titular head and then the puppet-masters, eg, Citibank, the pharmaceutical lobbyists, the farm folk, and several others sit back and tug on a few strings to get the puppet to do their bidding. It’s wonderful to sit at the computer and gaze into the crystal ball. The Republican Party is firmly convinced that the next puppet will be from the GOP, thereby giving both the executive and legislative branches to a group of people who care little for the average American and a great deal for the one-percenters. After all, it’s the one-percenters who write the bills they pass and keep their bank accounts growing. And, what the hell, should a Democrat – by some miracle of God – attain the exalted puppet-post, it will merely be four or eight more years of gridlock. With gridlock, nothing gets done; the press has a field day; and late night comics rub their hands together in glee. While I consider myself an independent voter, I have to admit that someone like Chris Christie of New Jersey could really shake the old-time-DC-boys up; in addition to which, he probably knows where to get rid of the bodies….lots of swampland in New Jersey.

The recent story of the loving son is not something that you find every day. Could one invent such a thing? Perhaps if I was a more creative writer it could happen. However, I’m not that desperate to build a readership. That was just one of those poignant moments that had to be set to paper, and I was honored to have the opportunity to do so…my thanks to those who commented. The opposite of that situation was viewed by Juli yesterday. “Behind you is a mother and son,” she said. “Neither has stopped texting since they sat down.” Of course, we had no idea if they were texting one another, but my bet is that was not the case. Kind of sad, isn’t it? Can you imagine saying to one of your adult children, “Let’s go to lunch and leave our smart phones in the car.” Be the fastest goddamned lunch on record. Yes, I could write about my view on technology (said he, pounding away at the keyboard) but I don’t even know the vernacular for today’s techno-geek…tough to fall behind the times like this.

Well, I’ve almost reached my thousand word limit so to you, my reader (hopefully with an ‘s,’ I bid you a wonderful winter without falls or flu; without slipping and sliding; without icicles or idiots. If you have young children, I hope you will enjoy sledding with them at the local hill. The bumps will be a bit rougher than you may remember, but what the hell, you’ll have wonderful memories when you recall the day over a cup of hot chocolate…don’t forget the whipped cream!

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I don’t believe that anyone can ever know the feelings of true pain and agony until they have watched a loved one waste away to some horrible disease knowing full well that there is nothing they can do to stop or even slow down the horror of what is happening; I’m told that being kicked in the balls by a kangaroo might come in a close second, but I’m not from Australia and the only kangaroos I’ve ever seen have been on television. Therefore, it’s somewhat difficult to experience what the feeling might be like when it’s coming to you from a forty-two inch, high definition flat screen television set. There may be people with a better imagination than I who could double up and scream in pain upon seeing this, but they are, I’m quite certain few and far between.

Do I make light – or lite if one is a beer drinker – of watching a loved one die? Unless you’ve been there, don’t even think about criticizing me. One minute you think you’re doing all the right things to make them comfortable; the next minute you know that you’re just deluding yourself and you ask over and over again, “Why can’t I do more?” Another question that will pop up somewhere along the line, that is if you believe in a higher power, is, “Why are you punishing her this way, God? Why won’t you stop the pain?” All good questions, but you and I won’t learn the answers until we stand before whoever or whatever it is we will stand before in final judgment. I certainly hope it’s not a kangaroo.

I’m old. That means that I’m not only on the downhill side of the mountain; it means I’ve crossed the desert, forded the river, traveled the forest, walked the yellow brick road, and am well on my way to making that final turn into the homestretch and the checkered flag. It’s not the checkered flag that scares the daylights out of me, but that friggin’ homestretch. It may be long and painful or short and so quick that I’m gone before I even realize the pain…although I doubt that will be the case…just as long as it doesn’t consist of a mob, troop, or court of kangaroos doing their happy dance.

I have come to understand that it’s okay to joke about death…not to someone who is dying, of course – that would be rather crass – but I remember my late wife saying at one point, “You know, this really should be you laying here. It would be so much easier for me.” She still had a good sense of humor at that time. As many others, I believe, have wondered, “Why was it him or her? Why not me? He or she was such a good person. Why did it have to be…?” Maybe we learn the answers; maybe we don’t. Guess we just have to die to find out. Certainly, a kick in the balls from a kangaroo isn’t going to answer the question.

And don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against kangaroos…except…well…you know…oooh! Just thinking about it sort of freaks me out. I mean it’s not like camels; they’re just plain mean. They spit and bite and they smell. Ostriches can give you a hell of a kick, but not like a kangaroo…they take aim.

Is this supposed to be funny? Well, I’d have to think about that. On the one hand, yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be a bit humorous, but on the other hand, there is very little humor in losing someone about whom you care deeply. It leaves a hole in your life; not in your heart necessarily…that’s the baloney that the poets push…but it leaves an emptiness in you that is always there. Sometimes, you can hide it; then, other times, it jumps up and punches you right in the gut. That’s the time when you just want to work things out by yourself…because I’m not gonna kid you, it hurts like a bitch. Somehow, you do manage to get through it…usually…but it’s like a tornado has passed by, sucking the air from you.

For those who haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, don’t forget to stop and admire the view; it’s like nothing you will ever see again.  If you’re in the desert, fording the river, or going through the forest, slow down and look around. Absorb the beauty of all that surrounds you. Before you know it, you will have walked the yellow brick road and see that homestretch and the checkered flag. Before you reach it, soak up all of the good and beautiful you can…oh, yeah, and watch out for the kangaroos.

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