Driving Miss Nina

(What’s the age people quit driving?  How do you get loved one to give up the keys?)

Mom was eating a personal-pan-pizza I bought her for lunch when she made her big announcement.  She said she wasn’t going to drive much anymore—if at all.

I glanced across to my sister Lainey, who was eating lunch with us, but she kept her eyes focused on mom. I was surprised by mom’s announcement, but I shouldn’t have been.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that fatal crashes begin peaking at age 85, and mom was 86.

My mother has been a chauffeur and driver for as long as I’ve known her.

I remember being a little girl in the 1960’s and driving with mom in the front seat of the Chevy.  Seat belts weren’t mandatory back then, so when mom made a sudden stop, she threw her arm protectively across my chest to keep me from bonking my head on the dashboard.  In my lifetime, my mother has picked me up from junior high sleep-overs, high school choir practice, and the residence hall at college.  When I was about 19 mom taught me how to drive, and her days of hauling her oldest daughter places, finally came to an end.  But mom still ferried other people.  Even as an older woman she’s been the driver for many of her friends.  She’s taken Ellie and Dorothy to church, to doctor appointments, or just to get groceries.

“I know you had that little fender-bumper at the Albertson’s parking lot last week mom, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit…” my sister began.

Mom waved her hand at Lainey. “No-no, it’s time.  I don’t want to hurt anyone on the road, much less get myself killed.”

I know some seniors struggle to leave their driving days behind, but mom isn’t one of them.

One octogenarian neighbor refused to give up his keys even though he sometimes fought to stay awake at the wheel.  His wife decided she needed to drive with him, and tap his knee to keep him awake.  Another good friend was shocked when she heard the state of Idaho had issued a driver’s license to her 93 year-old father-in-law—especially since he was losing both his hearing and sight.  Then there was Fan.  She was a great-great aunt and a shirttail relative.  I sat in my car at a traffic light one day and watched Fan slowly make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane.  Adding insult to injury, Fan then drove down a one-way street, the wrong way.  I honked along with everyone else, but Fan passed us all, head held high.

The American Auto Association said that almost 90 percent of seniors they surveyed thought giving up driving would be a big problem for them.

Sometimes concerned family members find creative ways to keep their loved ones off the road.  Families have anonymously reported grandpa to the DMV, knowing this would force him to retake the driver’s test.  Others have asked friends to “borrow” their grandmother’s car and “forget” to bring it home.  Another oft-used ploy is to accidentally hide or lose the car keys of an older driver.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” mom tried to assure my sister and me.  “I’m fine.  I’ve got several people lined up to drive me where I need to go.”

“Mom,” I told her, “I’m really proud of you for doing this.  I know it’s not easy.  And yet, you decided to make this choice on your own.”

I really was pleased with mom for acting so responsibly.  But at the same time, I knew giving up driving was a milestone, a marker that most people face only near the end of their life.  And so, a little voice inside of me, the child of the mother I love, anxiously whispered, “Stay with me mom.  It’s not time to go yet.”

 

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Image Credit:   Driving Miss Daisy     Image Credit:  Driver and Dog

 

 

 

My Little Singing Problem

(How many people can’t sing?  How can you improve your singing?  What’s the one thing to remember if you want to join a choir?)

My son John is tall and handsome.  Smart too.  Lest you think I’m just a biased mother, I’m also going to say that John is so tone deaf if he hummed “Happy Birthday to You” on your big day, you wouldn’t recognize the melody.  John’s not the only one who can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  According to experts at BRAMS (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research) about 60% of people have a hard time carrying a pitch. If you’ve watched the auditions for American Idol you already know this though.

Singing for me has also been a problem—but for a very different reason. 

Several people have told me I have a pretty voice.  Some have even used the words “beautiful voice.”  To which I usually respond with batted eyelashes and an “aw shucks” kind-of false humility. Hearing so much of this kind of feedback is probably the main reason I’m such an overly confident, robust (to put it mildly) singer.  I’ve internalized these compliments over the years and at some level, close to, well, conscious thought, I must be convinced the world needs to hear my voice.  You have to sing loud if your audience is the world.

Both my mother and her mother, Grandma Verna, were loud singers.

I remember my Grandma Verna singing “The Old Rugged Cross” at the Baptist church.  Her voice sounded like God with a megaphone.  Inevitably, little kids in the pew in front of us would turn around to watch Grandma Verna sing, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross . . . ”  So, maybe it’s a genetic thing.  Kind of like being overweight.  Some people have low metabolism and some people have big larynx’s.  Shout-singing just feels normal to us.

Despite my little problem, I’ve enjoyed singing in choirs and choral groups for many years.  Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been politely informed on several occasions that I’m “over-singing.”  Still, I find I can hardly help myself.  It’s just too much fun to belt out songs like an opera singer with a horned Viking helmet on my head.  I have to repeatedly remind myself, over and over again like a mantra:  the goal of a choir member is to blend in . . . the goal of a choir member is to blend in.

Adding insult to injury, I’m not only a loud singer, I’m a loud singer with a lot of vibrato, or as is commonly known in the vernacular: a wobbly voice.

“And please folks, (chorus leaders have instructed), could you (meaning me) tone down the vibrato?”

Which is a hard thing to do.  Just ask Dolly Parton. Over the years I’ve come to find out what having a naturally loud singing voice means: I’ve got the pipes, but not the training.  According to AskaVocalCoach engaging your diaphragm when you sing helps you control your air and your volume .  Everyone sings better when they learn how to control their breathing.  Even singing more quietly requires as much, if not more, air and breathe control.

Singing at all volume levels and on pitch then, is doable.  It just takes a lot of practice.  Practice I’m not likely to engage in at this point in my life.  I guess I’d rather accept my singing as is.  Because really, technical proficiency is only part of the equation when it comes to making music.  The other is spirit.  And despite my volume challenges and my son John’s pitch problems, these issues have never stopped either of us from singing full-hearted and full-throated–whenever we’ve felt like it.  And who would ever want to change that?

 

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Image Credit:  American Idol     Image Credit:  Little girl singing     Image Credit:  Dolly Parton

 

 

These Kids! Warning: the Generation Gap Lives!

(Who are the Millennials?  Why do techy people like nature?  How did fighting with our parents’ generation make us better?)

“They may not want a traditional family,” my son-in-law, Simon, told me explaining the difference between his generation and the Millennials, the 20 and 30-year-olds he works with as an engineer.  We were watching Simon’s children, my grandchildren, building a science project at the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” I said, “They’re just a bunch of slackers.”  I was being flippant, but Simon wanted to make a point.

“What?  No, no, that’s not what I mean.  Millennials work hard too.  They just have different ideas.”

I’ve been largely oblivious to the new generations coming up, the “Z’s” and the “X’ers.”  These alphabet labels make the next generation sound like they just stepped out of an elementary classroom instead of into adulthood.  I’d trade being called Baby Boomer for Generation W (standing for “wise,” of course).  Baby Boomer sounds like the nickname for an overweight football player.  Or Baby Boomer is a big puppy that drools a lot.

Every 20 years or so we have a new crop of young people entering the work force and needing a label.  All these generational lines have blurred for me.  Maybe because I’m retired now.  There’s no need to compare salaries and work styles.  I don’t fear becoming irrelevant at the office.

But my ignorance doesn’t change the fact that with each generation there are new ways of being and doing that challenge past generations.  Millennial author, Noah Strycker, echoed my son-in-law’s comment.  He said 30-somethings were less family-oriented and more narcissistic. But they love nature and the outdoors, ironically, because they are so wired-in and techy.  Millennials know how to app information about any animal, rafting trip, or hiking trail within minutes, if not seconds.

Some age groups clash more than others though, and not just related to the work place.  I drove my mother back from her cardiologist appointment yesterday and she casually commented that her granddaughter, my niece, was living with her boyfriend.

“Mom, I can’t believe you said that.  Would you listen to yourself?  Forty years ago you had a near melt-down when I suggested living with my boyfriend.”

“It’s still wrong!  The institution of marriage is being trampled on.  This younger generation just doesn’t seem to care . . .”

My parents are good people but as a baby boomer, I experienced far more generational conflict between them and myself, than I do between me and my own children.  I remember my dad shaking his fist at the evening news on TV as he watched footage of long-haired hippies living in communes and trespassing on private land.  Of course, our generation responded in kind.  We sang songs with lyrics that said:  “What gives you the right to put up a sign to keep me out—and keep Mother Nature in?”  Our generational divide was popularized back then as a generation “gap.”

Though I get along with my own children better than my parents did with me, I may be taking credit where none is deserved.  Sociologists tell us that my parent’s generation, the generation born at the front of the Great Depression, experienced not only a major economic crisis, but also a world war.  Their age group is known as the Silent Generation for good reason.  They like peace and are risk-adverse.  They don’t like rocking the boat.  Understandably then, they had trouble with the loud protests and counter culture movements we baby boomers engaged in.

The Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation if you prefer, are slowly leaving us. 

It’s exciting to read about Gen-X’ers like Elon Musk, the Tesla engineer, or Greta Thunberg, a Generation Z’er whose passion for climate politics is igniting change.  But as we embrace these younger people and their achievements, we cannot forget the smart, brave generation that came before us.  We fought with them, yes, but it’s often the clash of ideas, from one generation to the next, that define us.  That struggle, can and does, propels us forward.

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Image Credit: Millennials     Image Credit: Noah Strycker’s book     Image Credit: Greta Thunberg

I’m Going Back to the Plough

(Which is better: city life or country life?  Why do people move?  How big is Boise, Idaho?)

I’m moving out of the city and going back to live, full-time, on the farm.  According to Allied Van Lines moving is not that unusual since in a lifetime most people change homes about 11 times (my mother moved nine times within a five-year period).  The majority of moves people make are local, from an apartment to a house in the same city, for example.

But people in my age group, the baby boomers, are the least likely of any demographic to make a big move. 

Generally, older adults have finally paid the mortgage off and are unwilling to take on any new debt, especially house loans.  And if they do change homes, they want to live closer to town, not further away.  They want to be nearer their family, goods and services, and especially medical facilities as they age.

None of those issues mattered to me though, when I decided to move back to the farm.  I simply wanted to find more peace and quiet and less rush and riot. I saw Elton John’s biopic, Rocketman, this past summer, and while I was packing boxes for my big move I found myself singing along with Elton’s “Yellow Brick Road”:  “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl, you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough…”

The farm does have plows, which means work, so the lifestyle has not always been my panacea.  The first twenty years of my married life I plied, if not plowed, our farm.  I remember walking field roads dreaming of city streets and city lights.  I’d become a hay seed, but I longed to make hay in the big city.  I couldn’t shake wonderful memories of being a young college girl in downtown Philadelphia.  I loved the beautiful fountain at Logan’s Circle with the sculptured winged gods spouting water.  Down the boulevard from Logan’s Circle was the magnificent Philadelphia Art Museum.

I finally got the chance to leave the farm once my children were raised, and after I’d made a career change.

I moved to the biggest city around: Boise, Idaho, population 226,570.  It wasn’t the Big Apple but it was a fairly Large Potato.  When I made that move a farm girlfriend of mine asked me, “What does the city have that the country doesn’t–besides shopping?”

I thought (but didn’t say): you plebian!  A country girl could never understand the excitement, the energy, of so many people working and thinking and creating, in one big, buzzing place.  Even Michelangelo said, “I have never found salvation in nature.  I love cities above all.”

But I came to discover my plebian friend had a point.  Though cultural centers, cities are shopping meccas for most people.  In terms of daily living, this is their biggest draw.  It took some time, but eventually I found the gridlock and traffic jams a poor trade for the peace allotted to those who live among the wheat fields.

Another friend, Donna, said, “Won’t you be bored living out on the farm again?”

Maybe.  But I’m beginning to understand the upside of boredom, how it motivates you to engage with all the little things you missed before, like the litter of kittens out by the barn.  Besides, every day’s not meant to be a bell-ringer.  If you can’t stand the lethargy of time, you’ll die young—or at least sooner from rushing about so much.

So, it could be I’m moving back to the farm to save my life—or savor it. 

Really it doesn’t matter. If I’m honest, it’s how you live, not where you live that matters.  Early this morning in the dark, I opened up the back patio door on the Snake River rushing past.  When I looked up, a spray of stars twinkled in the sky.  I took a big breath, and smelled the freshly cut hay in the field next to our house.  Mornings on the farm are the best.

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Image Credit: packing boxes        Image Credit:  Rocketman        Image Credit:  old barn photo by Diana Hooley

 

 

Marijuana

(How many states have legalized marijuana?  What does AARP now say about dope?)

I sat cross-legged on a blue fringed pillow that was laying on the floor. My blind date sat next to me on his own pillow as he passed the bong to me.  He’d just taken a hit from the long tube filled with THC smoke.

“Oh,” I laughed nervously, “I think I’ll pass”.

My date, a rather hairy guy, gave the bong to the person sitting on the other side of our little circle.  “Here man,” he said glancing back at me, “She’s doing her own thing.”

I thought I was going on a dinner date when I landed at this pot party in 1973.

I’d never tried marijuana before—nor did I want to.  Dope had no place in my Christian code of ethics.  Everyone said it was a gateway drug to needles and heroin, everyone being not just my Christian friends, but really important people too, like President Nixon and his drug czar, Elvis Presley.

Now almost a half a century later, marijuana’s reputation has improved substantially (even if the politics haven’t). 

The fairy godmother turned the orange pumpkin green and all kinds of magic has sprung forth.  There are only a handful of clinical studies on cannabis since it’s still considered an illegal, controlled substance at the federal level.  But there’s a growing body of evidence that says marijuana has medicinal value. The leaf that has become a jolly green giant here in the northwest, not only makes you feel, well, jolly, but may also be helpful in treating certain medical conditions and symptoms.  Not surprisingly, anxiety is one of those conditions.

Not too many years after my pot party experience I found myself married and living in a little trailer in the neck of a lonely desert canyon.  I’d just had two babies born thirteen months apart. I remember rocking one baby while the other one played with blocks at my feet.  Staring at the wet diapers hanging on a wooden rack in my living room, I asked myself, “What’s happened to my life?”

Stress and its partner-in-crime, anxiety, were gnawing at my stomach and knocking at my head. Feeling vaguely ill much of the time, I turned to The Well Body Book (a book I still have forty years later) to find out what was wrong with me.  There, I read what two hippy doctors said about my symptoms.  They wrote about stress and anxiety and provided sound guidelines for when to see a physician.  One chapter in particular, caught my eye.  It was entitled, “Drugs are Helpers.”

In light of the opioid crisis ravaging parts of America today I’d modify that chapter title to: “Drugs Can Be Helpers–or Not.” 

Still, the hippy doctors had a point.  When a good friend of mine had colon cancer and was struggling with nausea due to chemotherapy, I smoked marijuana with her.  It was my first experience with the drug.  Marijuana made me feel a little woozy and a lot sleepy, the effect being somewhere between having a glass of wine and taking a Benadryl.  Shakespeare said it best regarding my introduction to marijuana:  much ado about nothing.

Ironically, the age group that was probably most vociferous opposing the legalization of marijuana back in the day, the elderly, are now leading the charge to sanctify dope holy.

In the latest issue of the AARP Bulletin (American Association of Retired Persons) an extensive investigative report found older citizens increasingly using marijuana to treat such conditions as chronic pain, migraines, and Parkinson’s disease.

Currently 34 of our 50 states have made marijuana legal for medical, or medical and recreational use.  I marvel at how time can chip away at the most entrenched biases.  The stigma attached to marijuana is finally fading–but it has been a long time coming.

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Image Credit:   marijuana leaf          Image Credit:  Seniors cheering marijuana

The Job of My Dreams

I was offered a job teaching kindergarten two mornings a week in the little village of Hammett, Idaho.  I considered taking the job even though I’ve spent my career teaching older students, adults and teens.  It was a thrill.  It was a challenge.  It was a nightmare.  No, not a nightmare—it was a dream.  My head nestled deep in a pillow, I’d dreamt about the Hammett job offer.  It wasn’t real.  I know some people still dream about their jobs, their careers, long past retirement:  waiting on tables, writing reports in an office, dealing with co-workers.  My farmer-husband woke up one morning this past summer and when I asked him over coffee how he’d slept, he said, “I worked all night.”

“No you didn’t,” I took a sip of my hot coffee.  “You snored all night.”

“That wasn’t a snore.  That was me grunting, trying to keep up with the farm (bailing hay, moving irrigation pipe, fixing the tractor).  There was too much pressure.  I had to wake up just to get some rest.”

Even though leaving our work identities behind after retirement can be both freeing and frightening, our careers, our work leaves marks on our psyche as deep and wide as Big Foot’s tracks on the forest floor.

This is why retirement for many people is such a dramatic sea change. It’s not just changing our behaviors, it’s changing how we think.  In light of such a big transition, some of us choose to hang on to our jobs. I hiked with a friend in the foothills north of Boise, Idaho the other day, and she told me her brother, at 76, plans to keep his career as a communications professor at Portland State University, as long as he can.  Sitting on a restaurant patio last week, I ran into another old friend, Fred, who’s been a practicing mental health therapist for at least thirty years.  Fred told me he’d probably work until the day he dies.  And like the great therapist he is, Fred didn’t want to talk about himself, he wanted to talk about me.

“So Diana,” he said, “I hear you’re doing a lot of writing these days…”

My husband and I have another friend, Bob, who has a decidedly different take on retirement.  Bob said, “It takes guts to retire.”  He went on to talk about the courage it took for him to sit with feelings of boredom and aimlessness—a perspective I found interesting.  Some people say they’re busier than ever in retirement.

Still, Bob had a point.  Retirement is often a process:  binge-watching Netflix shows until you feel ready to move on to something else.

Ironically now, I remember what a drag having a job was when I was a teenager in the 60’s and 70’s.  Maynard G. Krebs, the deadbeat beatnik on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis show expressed the sentiment of me and my peers on the topic of work.  Whenever Maynard heard the word, “work,” he repeated it with a shout, like he had Tourettes and work was a dirty word.  Then there’s the Civil War era poet, Walt Whitman, for whom having a job was—a distraction.  Whitman’s family lamented his “laziness,” but Whitman didn’t want regular employment with its “usual rewards.”  He preferred instead, to wander the beaches of Long Island and create great masterpieces of poetry like his collection, Leaves of Grass.

For many years, my job meant a lot to me.  I liked the routine, the money, and the title: Dr. Hooley. 

But when I retired, the veneer of self-importance fell away, and I was left with just me.  Not the professor, or coach, or director, or committee member.  Just me.  And for most of us, that’s not such a bad thing.  Retirement means we finally have the time to consider what we want to do, instead of what we have to do.  And honestly, being a kindergarten teacher in Hammett, Idaho was never high on my list.

 

 

Image Credit:  Hammett sign    Image Credit: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis        Image Credit:  Walt Whitman

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trip to Sun Valley

 

There’s a book I read years ago about the American West, a work of fiction by the author Wallace Stegner: Angle of Repose.  Stegner’s book has a long and colorful history, including a Pulitzer Prize, but what I want to talk about is its title.  I’ve always been fascinated by the title.  Angle of repose is a geological term meaning the place where rocks tumbling down a hill finally come to rest.  The title is a metaphor for the story: a young pioneering couple from the east, move west, and go through both physical and emotional upheaval before they finally find together, an angle of repose.

Maybe my fondness for this book’s title has to do with the fact that I once was an easterner.  Like many transplants, I lived other places, experiencing different landscapes and cultures before I settled in the West.

I thought about this the past weekend when I took my elderly mother and two of her friends for a little get-away to Idaho’s beautiful Sun Valley resort.  Mom said she always wanted to see Switzerland (who doesn’t?), and I thought, since international travel isn’t viable for her anymore, Sun Valley might be the next best thing.

On the trip, I told the ladies packed in the backseat of the Subaru that I first heard about Sun Valley years ago, when I was in high school back east.  I think I must have been rifling through a magazine at the school library, likely having skipped lunch, when I came upon a glitzy advertisement for the resort. The ad read: “Winter playground of the rich and famous!”  I remember the picture of people happily skiing down snow-covered mountain peaks and thinking, “Wow.  Isn’t that pretty.  Too bad I’ll never go there.”  I couldn’t imagine visiting a place like Sun Valley because, a) my family was too poor for resorts; we scrapped by on my dad’s trucker salary, and b) Sun Valley, Idaho was about 2,000 miles and several feet of elevation away from the Indiana plain where I lived.

Now that I think of it, neither my mother nor I would visit Sun Valley until we’d found our angle of repose.  We both had journeys to take, alternately exciting and challenging, before we could reach a stopping place in the inter-mountain West.

Mom had to travel to the Philippines where she worked several years as a missionary nurse.  Then, when she came back to the States, nostalgic for old friends and old places, she moved to where she’d grown up, near Bluefield, West Virginia.  She finally landed in the West when she turned eighty.

After high school, I left Indiana, spending time first in the big city of Philadelphia, and then on an Indian reservation, before going to college in the bucolic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  I managed to make my way west when I met an Idaho farmer.  I’d never been to Idaho before, and the only thing I really knew about the state (like most non-Idahoans) was that they grew potatoes.  It wasn’t until I found myself teaching school and trying to raise four children that someone suggested I needed to take a few days away, all by myself.  I should go to a mountain resort just a few hours north of our farm.  Sun Valley is glorious, they said, alpine meadows and fine dining.  Lots of history.  Ernest Hemingway lived there.

I told mom and her girlfriends how over the years I’ve come to Sun Valley dozens of times, drawn mostly by its natural beauty, the sagebrush hills with the rugged Pioneer and Boulder Mountains rising behind them.

Sometimes I think about my eastern-living days:  the humidity, the always unseeable sky—blocked by either trees or buildings.

There were no mountains to scale or climb down from in northern Indiana.  No place to stop on the trail, to sit awhile, or just shut my eyes, peaceful in my repose.

 

 

Image Credit: Angle of Repose   Image Credit: Diana Hooley   Image Credit: Sun Valley poster

A lesson from my husband . . .

What’s so great about mindfulness?

It seems like almost every day I see an article online or in my news feed that has something to do with mindfulness.  I’ve read so much media hype about the idea, it may as well be called McMindfulness, and sold to the public with the slogan: you deserve a break today.  For a long time I didn’t even know what mindfulness was, guessing it had something to do with Buddhism or meditation.  Several years ago though, I experienced a very potent object lesson on mindfulness.

I was a high school debate coach at the time, and much more interested in Western competition than Eastern thoughtfulness.

Late one afternoon long after school was over and my teaching duties finished, I found myself still working, supervising about 30 of my debaters as they practiced for an upcoming tournament. 

I can still hear the metal scraping along the floor tiles as students shoved desks together to arrange their debate stage.  In the back of my classroom, Robert, a 17-year-old policy debater, stood over his partner’s desk and started yelling at her.

“This is not Lincoln-Douglas debate! Its’ called Policy, Chrissie, and that counterplan won’t work!” Robert stabbed an index finger into the paper Christina was holding in front of him.

Izak, my top debater, rushed over to make peace between the two, and stop Robert from bullying Chrissie (who happened to be Izak’s girlfriend).  That problem taken care of, I walked away to check on other debaters working in the hallway.  Ally was out there kneeling on the floor rifling through her big plastic tub of debate evidence.  Apparently, she couldn’t find what she was looking for so she began dumping papers by the handful on the hallway floor.  The janitor passed by with his wide-headed broom and just shook his head as if to say, “Don’t ask me to clean that mess up.”

Just then the take-out pizza arrived and everyone took a much-needed break, but I was too stressed to eat.  I began picking up some of Ally’s scattered papers when I glanced up and saw my husband, Dale, standing just outside the glass exit doors of the school.  It looked like he had a bag of hamburgers in his hand.  I opened the door and told him I couldn’t stop yet, there was still work to do.

But he took one look at my disheveled appearance and grabbed my hand, pulling me outside with him. That’s when I got my object lesson on mindfulness.

After setting the bag of burgers down on the cement steps next to us, Dale took my shoulders and pivoted me to face him.  He said, “Close your eyes.”

“What?  I can’t close my eyes.  I’ve got to get back inside!”

“Your students will be okay.  Just close your eyes.”  So I did.  I decided to humor him, hoping we could get this little game of his over—quick.

“What do you hear?” he asked me.  What do I hear?  Debaters debating of course.  But no.  I was outside the school now.  What I actually heard was a car engine down the street, and the wind blowing the tree branches above the sidewalk.  So I told him this and opened my eyes.

“No.  No!  Keep your eyes close.  What do you smell?”  I took a moment.  Someone had just cut the grass around the school and it was so pungent.  I inhaled a big breath, and surprisingly, smelled a color:  green.

When he asked me what I felt, I’d fully given myself over to the game by then, and told him I felt the coolness of the coming night.  I could feel humidity against my skin.

Then Dale asked me to open my eyes.  He surveyed my face and lightly tapped my chest, “Now.  What do you feel there?”

That’s when I discovered mindfulness—awareness—and how it can take you away, take you out of the chaos of whatever situation you’re in, and into the moment.

“Better—I feel better,” I smiled back at him.  After that we walked back into the high school and sat down, munching our hamburgers as my students finished up debate practice.

 

Image Credit:  Students debating, Image Credit:  Debate coach, Image Credit:  Mindfulness

Becoming a Hindu

We might know our height and weight, even our blood cholesterol levels, but do we know our life stage?  Or do we even care?  In my late 30’s I didn’t care.  I was busy raising my children—and what felt like everyone else’s—teaching history at a junior high school.  After work, like many teachers, I took night classes to keep up with the profession and get yet another degree, this one in English.  It was in one of those night school classes that a professor, an Indian man, spoke about the ancient Hindu teachings regarding life stages.

He told my class we were all in the “productive” stage of life, building families and careers.  Yeah right, I thought, when do I get to move to the next stage

I was stressed and tired from overwork and too many commitments.  I couldn’t see beyond where I was—to where I was going.  I felt swamped.  Interestingly, an older couple in our neighborhood, Joe and Margaret, told my husband and me, “Oh, you’re at the best time of life . . . when your family is young and growing.  Enjoy it.  Time passes so quickly.”

My Indian professor also spoke, rather eloquently I thought, about the last stage of life.  Maybe this was because he, himself, was an older man and close to this stage. He said near the end of life we turn into ghosts; we are still in our bodies, but our hair becomes white and our skin, more translucent.  We’re walking spirits, he said, waiting for the next life.

The professor had a name for this Hindu teaching, but I quickly forgot it.

Last week though, I picked up a copy of The Atlantic magazine and read about Hinduism and life stages.

Arthur Brooks wrote about growing older. He said he left his job as the head of a Washington think tank to go to more humble pursuits—teaching at Harvard (not quite as humble as being a Walmart greeter).  He noted professional decline was all part of aging, and said that the Hindus called the teachings on life stages: ashrama.  There it was.  That was what my Indian professor was referring to in my night class.  Ashrama is about the order of life.

There’s some comfort in understanding my current life stage: I finally get to lower my expectations of myself.  Maybe I’m not dancing until dawn or knocking down Pulitzer’s—but neither are my peers. We’re all on this galactic ship heading toward the unknown—and we’re nearing three-quarters of the way there.  At this stage, a good day is a peaceful day filled with small projects and reading and music.  What more could I ask for?

Yet Ashrama also teaches that at each life stage a work must be performed—and, as Shakespeare noted: there lies a rub. What if you don’t follow the ashrama pattern?

In ashrama, spirituality is work set for the last stage of life, but I was more spiritual as a young girl when I found myself praying many nights on my knees. 

Fortunately, the life span is only chronological in some ways.  This is another thought that comforts me. In some sense, we are all we’ll ever be, no matter what our age.  In youth there is the potential, and in old age there is the experience: two sides of the same coin. I’ll not claim this as an ashrama teaching—but it does sounds vaguely Middle Eastern.

 

Image credit:  adult education  Image credit:  The Atlantic  Image credit:  Hinduism

 

 

Country music is great for everyone, even dogs . . .

 

The big discovery this week is that listening to country-western music is like taking the drug, Ritalin.  For adults, it revs them up—but for kids, country music calms them down.

Who’d have thought that honky-tonk bars and cheatin’ hearts could be so sedating?

I happened on this “aha!” moment driving my grandchildren to YMCA camp last week.  On the way, Clara, my granddaughter, wanted to listen to a radio show for kids called “Radio Lab” on National Public Radio (NPR).  Always ready to keep peace in the car while driving with my grandchildren, I dutifully pushed the radio search button looking for our local NPR station.

“Get back Millie (the family dog came along for the ride).”

“How come you don’t like Millie, grandma?”

“I like Millie—I just don’t like her licking my ear when I’m driving.”

I finally found the NPR station and sat back to focus on the road.  All was quiet until a newscaster announced tariffs with China were hurting U.S. trade.  Then my grandson slapped his hands over his ears and yelled, “Change the station grandma!”

I hit the search button on the console frantically looking for any radio station my grandkids might like, all the while trying to dodge Millie’s affection.  I scanned through classical music, right wing talk radio, and jazz.  Each time my grandchildren begged, “Not that station grandma!”  Finally I landed on a country-western station: KISS FM.  The call sign said it all.  The DJ’s were definitely kisser-uppers, happily making fools of themselves to please their listening audience.  Before I could press the search button again though, a country-western song came on about a man going through the McDonald’s drive-thru buying his son some Chicken McNuggets.   Chicken McNuggets?  Really?

My finger hovered over the search button as I glanced in the rear view mirror.  My grandkids were strangely quiet.  I saw them placidly staring out the back windows as if they were actually listening.  Even Millie was riveted by this song, no doubt having something to do with those two magic words: chicken and McNugget.

The song went on about how the dad’s son (his little buckaroo) said a bad four-letter word beginning with an “s.”  When the father and his son got home, the dad went to the barn to do some “prayin’” because he realized his potty-mouth had rubbed off on his son.  Actually, I thought the dad was being too hard on himself.  We all slip up sometimes.

When the song finished I reached over to hit the search button again, and cries erupted from the back seat, “No grandma!  Don’t change it!”

It occurred to me then that my grandchildren liked country-western music for the same reason most people do:  country-western songs tell good stories. 

With that in mind we all sat back to listen to the next tune played on KISS FM.  The sage lyrics went:

I got a dog named Waylon
I got a driveway that needs pavin’ …

I got friends in low places
Yeah, life’s what you make it …

 

 

 

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley; Image Credit: Chicken McNuggets; Image Credit:  Country Music