Trying To Outlive Our Felines

We all lose cats, but that shouldn’t stop us from loving more of them

Cousin Zinn, Prince of All He Surveys. Photo credit: Matrika, our daughter and his mother

We are going to lose our wonderful little tuxedo twins soon. Sad? Not too much. They’re not dying — they’re just going to move away with our adult son.

It’s a personal dilemma. I’ve fallen in love with Bella, and Mal wants to cuddle with my spouse on the couch all the time. But our son needs to go. He is almost 35, and our apartment isn’t really big enough for all of us.

The felines’ inevitable departure has brought back grief for our past pets. From 1990 to as recently as three years ago, we’ve suffered the loss of some very beloved cats.

There are those who would say: “They’re just cats.” Um, no because they all were a part of my heart. Death being what it is, I was bound to grieve. The shorter lives of felines has meant that I’ve easily outlived them all.

Meanwhile, the feline rescue application warned us to have someone promise to adopt our kittens in the case of our leaving them orphans. Geez.

Our October surprise

Our very first was a barn cat from rural Sheboygan, Wis. She was gray and white, not orange, but we named her Pumpkin because we found her in the noted season of such gourds.

I held her in my arms, as I did almost every night, when, some 17 years later, the vet administered the drugs to end her breathing and heartbeat.

The decision to euthanize her was made to save her from any more suffering from tongue cancer. We had tried surgery, even without much hope, because I wasn’t ready to let go. A few months later, the cancerous tumor reappeared, which began the breaking of my heart. She would beg for me, with plaintive mews, to feed her wet food, only to be unable to eat it.

So, following the wisdom of animal lovers from time immemorial, we gave her release. I cried as I held her and now 30 years later, her loss still brings tears to my eyes.

The girl who was a boy

One cat seemed to be enough when we moved to Indianapolis a few years later. But then we got a big house in a working-class neighborhood where mice and feline predators abound. And one morning, as we headed to our garage, we found an adult, black-and-white cat who greeted us by begging for food in a loud voice. Being the fool I am, of course, I fed the busker.

I lacked the skill for feline gender identification, but instead asked “What’s the story, Morning Glory?” any time she appeared at our back steps. The only thing is, when we finally decided to formally “adopt” at the first vet visit, we were told this cat wasn’t female but a neutered male. And we had nonchalantly given him a feminine-sounding name. To save him from any further embarrassment, we immediately renamed him M.G.

He came with us when we moved that year to New Hampshire where, because ours remained indoor/outdoor cats, he wandered at will. He had woods in the back and a fairly safe street in front to cross as he wished.

The last time I saw M.G., he was sitting on our front walkway in the warm sun grooming himself. Up until that point he had never been absent for more than a few hours. So when he didn’t show back up by nightfall, I began to worry.

We did the ‘Lost Cat’ posts and flyers. We canvassed the neighborhood. I trudged back and forth in the woods. He was simply gone, probably prey to some bigger, more aggressive predator.

I cried at his loss. From then on, we had only indoor cats.

The sneaky little hider

Having not yet realized what it would mean to have a group of indoor cats, my spouse and I decided to give our young daughter and son a kitten for Christmas one year.

We bought a male from a true cat-lady a block or so away who had a bunch of black kittens running around. Trying to keep the gift a surprise, on Christmas Eve we asked our dear friend, Dudley Weider, to keep the kitten in his kitchen overnight.

On Christmas morning, when we arrived to pick up the little ball of black fur, our friend breathed a huge sigh of relief. The night before, even with the kitchen closed off, our new troublemaker disappeared. Dud looked everywhere and no kitten. He finally pulled all the boots and shoes from the mudroom closet to discover, hidden there, our Christmas gift curled up in a back corner.

Coal — this time we tried a more logical name — won the kids’ hearts immediately and became one of us.

So it will come as no surprise that when Coaly died without warning one night in our bedroom, I was devastated. I was in my 70s already, but reacted like an elementary kid. I wanted to bury him next to Pumpkin that very night.

Heartbroken as my spouse was, she nonetheless understood my “losing it.” She got a towel to wrap him in, found the shovel from the garage, knelt with me next to Pumpkin’s grave, and helped me dig. I was blinded by emotions out there in the dark and actually kept holding him to make sure he was dead.

My extreme meltdown may have been because he was the only cat to die in our home. Or his death may have been layered with past grief. All I really know is that it was a truly horrible experience.

The feline that came to be called “Sorske”

Our final (so far, I say with tongue in cheek) was a great striped tabby named Eeyore. Hardly any cat is called by its given name — something you who entertain felines will already know. So, by an odd, circuitous route, Eeyore’s most common moniker became “Sorske.”

Sorske lived a great life, loved by the four of us with abandon. We fed him too much, which, along with his breed’s DNA, made him fat.

He also seemed to have financial partnerships with various vets over the years. A quick estimate is about $5,000 at our New Hampshire vet alone. We always took our cats in for checkups and vaccines, but Eeyore demanded more.

Early on we found tiny, benign but replicating skin tags inside his ears. Diagnosis called for biopsies and blood tests. Treatment meant expensive salves for us to Q-Tip in every day and constant follow-up exams. They finally went away, and we settled into a false sense of relief.

Then came the tumors on his thyroid gland. Untreated, they were life-threatening. There was a treatment, but the cost was a staggering $2,000.

It required him to be an in-patient at a special clinic an hour away. There he was caged for a week-long visit. His “cell” did have an online webcam for us to see him still alive, but the thrill of that quickly diminished overnight when all we saw was Sorske sitting alone, watching the techs walk around.

The treatment consisted of daily injections with a radioactive substance invented to go straight to the thyroid. It was designed to kill the tumors but not damage the gland or surrounding tissue. It worked, but we were given a warning list for home care. Written to scare us into compliance, we even had to worry about radioactive feces.

In his last months, Eeyore moved with us from New Hampshire to Minnesota. In the Twin Cities, he lived out his days in happiness and peace. We cried when he was put to sleep. We knew it was merciful because he was limping and unable to jump, and his breathing was getting more difficult by the day. But it still broke off another piece of our hearts

Age is just a number? Phooey!

Mal and Bella (The Girls, as we call them) are young and spry so I hardly ever ponder their demise. But they have a 14-year-old cousin in DC named after the well-known teacher, author, and activist Howard Zinn. Our daughter lives alone with him, and he wanders about their apartment from one favorite spot to another all day.

“Zinnster,” my chosen nickname for him, often puts a paw on his human’s leg as if to say “Hey, I’m down here. Pick me up.” And as endearing as that might be, when unexpected at that moment, it makes his mother jump.

The worrier that I am, I keep thinking of his advancing years. I seem to remember 12 each time, and our daughter reminds me it’s 14. He goes to the vet regularly and comes out with a perfect report, so it is absurd to have any sense of doom. But worry is hardly ever logical.

Why do cats have to die?

Our family loves cats. The ones that live with us get the royal treatment. We envelop their spirits into ours. Thus our very hearts are a little more broken each time one dies. We may be anthropomorphizing way too much, but so be it.

It is said about the great cat-man artist, Louis Wain, that he cried for a whole year when his dearest feline companion, Peter, died. For us, that doesn’t seem the least bit far-fetched. In fact, we can identify.

When we philosophize about death or simply note the ages in obituaries, it is once again clear that all creatures, great and small, die. It should be, let it be, a push for us to consciously live now, in love with each other every day we are given.


The Least Important Reason To Reject A Supreme Court Nominee

But a good one in my opinion

Image for post
Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

If I made such a list, I might have at least a dozen objections to the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States.

My list wouldn’t include her gender or religious affiliation or the fact that she is a stereotypical Trump woman, pretty, white, blonde with a ditzy voice. None of these has anything to do with being an impartial, competent jurist.

There would be significant red flags on my list, however. That she is anti-LBGTQ+ or determined to block safe abortions in the United States, are high on the list.

Here’s the thing, though. When she gave her acceptance speech, from a written manuscript, she mispronounced two words, which either obfuscated or blocked the meaning she intended.

So my questions are, how could a Notre Dame professor make such mistakes, and if she does, how could she be a candidate for the Supreme Court?

The words were poignant and mores. Amy Coney Barrett, nominated by President Trump, and sure to be confirmed by the Republican majority in the Senate, can’t understand and correctly pronounce her own words. Damn.

Poign·ant /ˈpoin(y)ənt/ adjective — evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret.

I like to screw up this first one on purpose for the fun of it by saying “pog-nant” when it should be “poin-ant” (as in boing). That Barret said it my way was startling, but at least a little humorous to me.

The problem is the negative effect it has on the listeners. Most people know what it sounds like so it is jarring; it makes it hard to stay with the sentence.

For those who don’t know how it is supposed to be pronounced are not listening all that carefully anyhow, so it goes in one ear and out the other.

Mo·res/ˈmôrāz/ noun the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community.

Saying “mores” the way this ‘brilliant’ scholar did, bothered me much more(!). What does she even mean when she mispronounces the word?

The way Barrett said it sounded like a toddler who wants “mores” cookies. It reminded me of the campfire treat “smores”.

In the context of her talk, she wrote it to mean, “more-rays”, as in eels. However, since she mispronounced it, it meant nothing.

Amy Coney Barrett shouldn’t be confirmed to the high court but in the end, it seems, she will be. With this President, we expect pathetic appointments, but the US Supreme Court should be different. A 48-year-old partisan, right-wing nut ought not to get a lifetime spot in such an important body, one of the three branches of our government.


Think I missed my 70s

Can ten years pass that quickly? Maybe I need to wake up.

When I turned seventy, Obama had just become the President of the United States. I was about to launch my ‘career’ as a school bus driver in our college town transporting nice kids to good schools.

When our family wanted big box stores or a multiplex theater, the city was only about 10 miles away. The airport could be reached in less than an hour.

The Connecticut River was a part of the incredible beauty of our place. Various critters visited our deck to eat birdseed and giant white pines surrounded us.

I am proud to say that exercise and diet helped me stay active. Great medical facilities offered solutions to many of my health problems and allowed me to avoid some of the natural aging issues. I didn’t consider myself ‘old’ at all.

In short, I had it made, right? Of course not; it doesn’t work that way. My seventies had their own pitfalls, roadblocks, and detours.

My school bus was exponentially longer than our Ford Focus and I backed into objects more than once. A hibernating problem from my clergy days raised its ugly headed and did not get resolved.

We tearfully dropped off our oldest child at college, a thousand miles away. My spouse began law school while maintaining her job as the pastor of a big church.

We moved from New England to the Midwest and after three not-so-happy years, moved back.

Whew, the years zipped by. I wish I had been more aware of some of the events in my life. On the other hand, as I reconsider them, I wasn’t completely oblivious. In a longer memoir, I could explain just how rich my seventies turned out. I didn’t miss too much.

So, this is obviously not how I envision my seventies. Instead, more a retrospective, one which reminds me that it was ‘life as usual’. What’s wrong with that? Consider, as they used to say, the alternative.

Maybe next time, I might write about how I envision my eighties. I hope they are not always as challenging as my seventies but I would welcome all the positive experiences.

It won’t happen that way but so what? As I get closer to sunset, I try to live one day at a time. Every little bit is rich experience. It is life.


I have lived 80 years but have I learned anything?

Actually, I have found no sane way to avoid aging, so I am going to refine my eldership before I run completely out of time

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Once during a Q & A session at a political forum, a woman prefaced her question by saying “Astonishingly, I turned 80 last week.” I now know exactly what she meant because I just did, too.It is a cliché that we feel one age in our mind, but we are chronologically another. Or as the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige, famously said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Meanwhile there are mirrors, group photos, upgraded pains, and the nice, but sometimes a bit tongue-in-cheek, compliments: “You can’t be 80! I would have never guessed that.”

So, what now? I will call myself an ‘elder’. I don’t really seem to have much wisdom. I do have some, even though much of it seems to have come lately. Maybe one has to trade off: One gem for each new ache.

So, here are a few I have accumulated.

Screw guilt

*Have you murdered someone? No? Then forget all that junk from your past.

In 12 Step programs, essential work is to “take a personal inventory” and then to let it go and move on. Not possible, you say? Then try to change the past. Talk about impossible.

Shame is in the eye of the experiencer

Sometimes it is natural to feel ashamed, but ask yourself, why?

Let’s say, no one knows or ever will know that about which you are ashamed. So, try this: Stand in front of a mirror and repeat after me, Shame begone!

Ok is just OK

A relentless TV commercial makes fun of people who are not perfect. “Just OK is not OK, but is that true?

While there are some things that have to be almost exactly right but for most of what we do or are, OK is definitely enough.

Being in control is a hopeless quest

If you have ever been called a “control freak”, sit down and ponder that accusation.

This wisdom came from my daughter. I was once half worrying and half grieving over someone’s situation. When I told her how I was feeling, she simply said, “You can’t control anything in life.” A radical statement but simply true.

That’s it for now but after writing this, I remember that “I know a lot of things because I have seen a lot of things.” That phrase may be the best definition of elderhood. If you are anything like me, I bet you have much wisdom, too

(*If you have actually murdered someone, “that is above my paygrade.” Sorry)

At Our Age, An Important Warning

Falling is a serious matter for us elders.
Photo by bennett tobias on Unsplash

The other day we met a woman in the elevator and we compared canes. I have a new one constructed to support my forearm and recommended it to her. She had a regular one but declared she never goes anywhere without it.

I commented that my main purpose in using a cane was to prevent falls, especially on snow and ice.

“I fell two years ago and ruptured my eye,” she said.

“I might get one for the other side to use around here in the winter,” I answered.

Obviously, the danger of falling is universal but much more so in our seventies and eighties. The medical assistants ask, “Have you fallen since your last visit?” Plus they remind us that “almost” falls count.

A couple of my falls were almost humorous had it not been for the red-flag dangers they represented. I was lucky they did not result in hitting my head or breaking any bones.

One of the most embarrassing was the time I came out of a convenience store and missed the step down at the curb. My Diet Pepsi went flying and I dirtied the knees of my pants. A couple of concerned people came right over to help me and I will always remember one of the guys asking, “You OK, pops?”

Another time, shortly after back surgery, I was sleeping in my recliner in the living room. When I came back from a bathroom visit, in semi-darkness, as I started to sit down, the chair swiveled causing me to fall right down between it and a bookcase. Since I was unable to get up, I used my cell phone to call my daughter upstairs. She jumped out of bed and came down to rescue me.

The other silly crash was when I tried standing on the scale and fell straight back. I sat down hard on my rear and thank goodness the foot of the mattress kept me from hitting my head. My wife tried to help me but I had to crawl to a chair before she could do it.

More consequential was the fall my stepfather had several years ago shortly before his death. He was pushing back from the dinner table and the chair caught on the rug causing him to fall straight back, banging his head on the floor.

Unfortunately, he was a stubborn but fearful guy and after refusing the logical medical intervention, risked a fatal accumulation of blood in his brain. He didn’t die but had symptoms similar to concussions for a long time.

His story is a good segue to some serious facts. A simple Google search with the phrase “falls in the elderly” reveals what a huge concern falls are when we reach our 70’s and 80’s. The Centers for Disease Control has a big list of factors that helps us consider the issue.

The very first item on that page caught my eye. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones. Plus, each year three million older people are treated in an emergency room for injuries from a fall.

This essay is not designed to frighten anyone but on the contrary, to make us conscious of a serious danger we can avoid. If it means getting a cane or two, then do it. I walk around looking down, which is counter-intuitive, but I don’t want to be surprised by strange bumps in my way.

Be ready next time the nurse at the clinic asks “Have you had any falls in the last ninety days?” The answer has to be a big “NO!”

The Saga of the Malfunctioning Refrigerator

First world problem: Even when you have a sub-zero balcony, food is not that accessible

Ours wasn’t THIS bad Photo credit: Anh Tuan To on Unsplash

Right around Christmas time, with various food and meal preparations happening, our fridge started leaking water from the freezer into the drawers and bottom of the main storage area.

At first, my attitude was “Who cares?” My grocery-buyer spouse disagreed. She was right, as usual, since the meat packages and cheese slices were, along with everything in the vegetable drawer, floating in pools of water.

In the “old days” I would have attacked the problem like Tim in an old comedy series. Fortunately, as a retired elder, I have an apartment staff at my beck and call, which saves me from the self-destruction of my pleasant aging-in-place approach.

Tim, our apartment maintenance guy, responded right away and determined that ice buildup was blocking the water removal tube. His solution was for us to take every single thing out and keep the refrigerator open for 24 hours, which we did.

Of course, we didn’t want to lose our food. So first, we got our little blue and white cooler to store the ice cubes and popsicles. Then we put some other things in a bag, with a little note saying “don’t take,” and placed it in the community room refrigerator.

In truth, since we live in what could be described as an arctic climate — Mark Twain once noted that the worst winter he ever experienced was August in Duluth — our balcony had all the freezer storage we would need.

But has anyone here, looking forward to a bologna and cheese sandwich, tried to get frozen mustard out of the wonderful yellow French’s container? Shards of ice floated in the SlimFast and Gatorade Zero for days, which was a bit reassuring since they had been outside on the balcony for all the critter world to see.

As I bet you suspect, that was not the end of the saga.

After 24 hours, the inside of the fridge was dutifully wiped down, and the food recovered from downstairs and the balcony. We were hoping that would do the trick.

Two days later, it flooded again.

Tim returned and with renewed vigor, took the whole refrigerator apart. Finally, with various components sitting on our kitchen counter, he muttered his way to the real problem. Right where the auto defrost water was supposed to drain and get into the bottom evaporation pan, there was a clogged tube. What looked like brown goopy wax had clearly blocked off the drainage process.

It seemed logical that cleaning out the spout would solve the water problem for the foreseeable future.

We are keeping our fingers crossed.

The reason I used the phrase “first world problem” above, is because we actually have a fridge.

While houseless people here never have to worry about their food thawing, they may not even have meals at all. Skid Row dwellers may have Los Angeles warmth, but it would be nice to experience a safe and peaceful cool breeze once in a while.

So the moral of the story is: when completely frustrated by a household appliance, stop for a moment and get a broader perspective. Thinking of others won’t solve the problem, but it will make you at least a bit more compassionate.

Downsizing is a Young Person’s Game

Unless you have a youthful spouse and a couple of willing teens, don’t do it

Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

“Where in the world did we get all this stuff and why?” We’ve asked ourselves this question many times since moving became necessary, four times. If you have ever downsized, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, beware.

First, we lived in a four-bedroom house where we had resided for 19 years and then moved to a two-bedroom apartment with a small storage cage. After that, gluttons for punishment, we went from that apartment building to another but stayed there only a year.

In some ways, I wish the story ended there but for a number of convoluted reasons, we are now back in a two-bedroom apartment. Thanks to my voracious packer-unpacker spouse, we have some semblance of normalcy and are doing our best to just stay in the present. Do we dare say “no more moves?”

A little less startling and a little closer to home, I recently saw an octogenarian in a road race, using a rolling walker for stability. The President of the United States will hit 80 by the end of his first term and who knows how old is Mick Jagger (78, of course).

I don’t buy the common phrase, “age is just a number” but I do believe that by avoiding falls and drunken drivers, one could keep going based on sheer will because, as the hiker made clear, “eighty percent of it is mental grit.” Pain makes it more difficult but not impossible

It calls for lowering expectations, focusing on the two cats wandering from room-to-room, or managing the bird feeders hanging off the balcony. Personally, I enjoy finding out the time of sunrise or moonrise so I can be ready, looking out our east window, for amazing skies.

I plan to spend my eighties living. Is that too simplistic? Well, whatever, as the teens say.

Thinking about death every day

A new smart app helps with that but do we need to do it

Photo by Hannah Wernecke on Unsplash

When I see announcements about people who have died in their eighties, it makes me a bit nervous since I am 82. But why do I even worry about it? Like the guy who told the doctor, “My arm hurts when I do this” to which the physician responds, “Then don’t do that.”

Thinking about this began when I saw an ad on Instagram for WeCroak©, an app that purports to send daily quotes so one can consider dying.

Today it is Emily Dickinson, “Dying is a wild night and a new road.”

Did that make you better?

Many years ago when one of my dear friends died suddenly in his sixties, I sat down with a counselor to talk about a new awareness of my mortality. In her wise way, she asked “What do you fear about dying?” As I tried to respond, I remembered my father’s comment when he had a heart attack at a very young age. “I am not afraid of dying but I hate the thought of how my death will make my family feel.”

So, that’s it in the proverbial nutshell.

I watch a lot of detective series on my various TV streaming sources and so I see quite a few, probably too many (fictional) murders. Because of the suddenness and the violence, every single time, grieving persons ask, “Did she suffer?,” “Was he afraid?” or some other impossible question.

On the spot, law enforcement or funeral personnel are taken aback, usually offering words of comfort rather than trying to respond. Answers would be sheer speculation anyway. Maybe the instant stopping of heartbeat or a morphine-induced dreamless sleep comes at our end.

Violent ends such as auto accidents may include longer dying but often there is a blessed unconsciousness. As for an airplane crash, I always remember the comment John D. MacDonald made when he had to fly from his boat slip in Fort Lauderdale to Chicago for heart surgery. He said, “The airlines may kill you but they won’t hurt you.”

When I read this essay back, it sounds a bit macabre. However, if you talked to the young(!) developers of WeCroak© they might say just the opposite. While I am not sure how long I am going to be able to take popup notifications telling me “Remember you are dying,” they do have a useful thing going.

The trick is to use it for engaging life with more awareness. That way, people, places and things will come into much sharper focus. If nothing else, you can end up more loving. And isn’t that what life is all about

Reflections For Father’s Day 2020

Remembering my dad after his death 50 years ago

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

My father died in 1968, sitting in his recliner, popping M & M candy, and watching TV. These days I am doing pretty much the same thing he was at the end, except my sugar of choice is Famous Amos cookies.

He and I also share a similar disability. Our legs gave out on us.

It was never clear to his doctors what was wrong. He gradually lost mobility in his forties and, although they diagnosed him at an advanced medical center, the only answer was “nerve deterioration in his lower spinal cord.”

In my case, it is clearer, probably because research, imagery, and surgery have improved dramatically over these past decades. Spinal stenosis, where arthritis has squeezed the nerves so much that there is pain, loss of sensation, and muscle atrophy in the legs.

Dad used a walker to get around, dragging his legs along. I’m able to walk without an assistive device, but my gait is wobbly and my back pain makes the trip miserable. Once again, I have the significant advantage of medical discoveries; back surgery has given me many more possibilities.

My father passed down a few witty, if not profound, sayings I think of often.

“All good things must come to an end” is one of my favorites. It wasn’t always clear to what he referred, but I guess his demise illustrated its wisdom.

He also liked to say, “Eat to live; don’t live to eat.” To back this up, when we worked early mornings, at a restaurant he ordered the same breakfast every time: One egg over easy with dry toast.

One piece of advice, which I am not sure I understood at first, was “Treat girls like you would like to have your sisters treated.” Maybe it was a very compact version of the ‘birds and bees’ thing, but it wasn’t full of information.

One of the deeper conversations I had with him was by old-fashioned letter writing. After my father’s first heart attack, three years before his death, I starting writing him regular letters. Most of these typed pages with erasures and backspace corrections were typical. “How’s the weather?” “The car had a flat.” “Lake Michigan is frozen.” “Did you watch Bonanza on Sunday evening?”

Once, in contrast, I started a thread, more revealing for both of us. Having finished seminary and struggling with what it meant to have a calling, I said I felt that he had pressured me to enter the ministry. His response shook me: “On the contrary, I wanted you to go into business with me.”

Realistically, it was far too late. His disability had long past shut down Turner Distributing; the little refrigerated truck gone, the hot dog steamers sold, and the customers now had other vendors.

Like so many points in life, one turned me toward another future. When I succumbed to the merciless lure of the southern Methodist Church and became a pre-ministerial student, selling hot dogs on Jacksonville Beach boardwalk fell by the wayside.

As they say in 12-Step groups,looking back on “shoulda, woulda, coulda” makes no sense. Yet it still intrigues me, this Father’s Day, to think of many more driving all over Jacksonville with my Dad

Are you like me or is your father still around? If so and you can, at least chat with him and find out where you might have had past misunderstandings. It will enrich both of you.

If We Are White, Will We Ever Get It?

A lifetime of white privilege, along with personal obliviousness, blinds us

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

As a white man, I have been racking my brain. What can I write during days of protests and nights of violence after the police murder of George Floyd?

Maybe, nothing. Or at least very little.

In the same way that I refuse to ‘mansplain’ women’s reproductive health, I can not know what it is to be non-white. I am not even sure I can imagine.

What I have experienced from my childhood to now, is a cycle of ignorance and white privilege. All too often, I accepted it without thought.

My parents did not work at instilling bigotry, but I nonetheless grew up with unconscious racism. It was and is deeply systematic in Jacksonville, Florida.

There was ‘nigger town’, or only slightly better, ‘colored town’. The homes and businesses there could only be called shacks.

We had a black maid who had to ride the bus an hour to our home. I don’t remember her being called ‘girl’ but I often heard black men referred to as ‘boy’.

My churches and schools were all white. There were white beaches, they allocated only certain areas of the ocean shore to blacks.

I wasn’t until I was in graduate school and had black classmates that I realized how much prejudice lurked in my subconscious. Thanks to the generosity of a few of them in small group conversations, I saw how oblivious I was.

I have come so far and felt so supported in this journey away from ignorance that it is easy to forget how different that is for the black experience.

I am 80, white and male. What if I was black?

In this time of outrage and violence, it would fill me with hopelessness and despair not only for me but as much so for my country. Too many times before when the hurt boiled over, we didn’t learn and change.

Yet, now I see the postcard on my office wall: “I always entertain great hopes”. Can I? Can you join me? If so, we have to change ourselves first. That is the work we must do.

There Are No Winners In The Race Against Time

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling morose, I said to my wife, “I feel my time is running out.” To which she responded, “Oh boo, it is for all of us.”

I knew my preacher spouse is profound, every Sunday I am more and more impressed. But this gem is one for the ages.

I am 80. People don’t live too much longer than that. Sure, there are plenty of nonagenarians and if I get there, I will shoot for 100.

Meanwhile, making it to next week feels challenging enough. Here are some thoughts about that.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As a former marathoner, I always cheered for the tortoise. I ran, but in the middle of the pack.

I raced for my personal win. No headlines noted it. I knew, though.

That is why, these days, I consider walking to the end of the block and back a victory.

Stopping for Rest is Just Fine

That same profound wife went into a cleaning frenzy yesterday, with significant results. I didn’t take part.

Our son and I spruced up the kitchen floor, but I had to stop often to relieve my back pain.

I was quickly back to my recliner, reading, or doing the New York Timescrossword puzzle. Could I give the excuse, “I was trying to keep out of the way?”

Maybe It Isn’t a Race At All

We have a small clock on our bedroom wall, and sometimes at night, I hear it. Tick, tick, tick, second by second. Sometimes it needs a new battery but otherwise is just ticks along.

Isn’t this the way our time goes? We look forward to something, expecting future joys but speeding too fast to see the ‘now.’

Who Really Wants to Know Where It Ends?

One of my races was Grandma’s, along the Lake Superior shore in Minnesota. It is a beautiful course that had a unique aspect. You could see the finish from the start. Although it began in Two Harbors, there, 26.2 miles away, was the Duluth skyline.

It was a mixed blessing. It was discouraging because Duluth didn’t seem to get closer. That same perception, however, made me keep my eyes on the lake and the cheering people along the way.

Astoundingly, maybe, this race against/with time is one where we are all participants. You can’t be a spectator. So instead of grinding it out, set your own pace. The only goal is to take one stride at a time.

A Letter to My 90-Year-Old Self

Right now will be my ‘distant’ past in 10 years; how will I feel about it?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dear Much Older Warren:

If you are reading this, you made it!

Even so, you will recall there were many times it didn’t seem to be happening.

Remember COVID-19, when hibernation switched from pleasant to burdensome? It was a challenge to be both happy your home was virus-free while heartbroken about the deaths around the world.

I bet you haven’t forgotten the infamous colonoscopy shortly before your 81st birthday, either, have you? It was elective because you have always appreciated excellent health care. But fun? Not so much.

Then, how about the excruciating night of November 3, 2020? You knew Trump would go down, but you were haunted by the Ghost of 2016, so it never seemed a sure thing.

So, how will you look back on your eighties?

If it is anything like the previous decades, it will seem just a blink of an eye. Living with intention doesn’t stop time.

It didn’t help to read ‘inspirational’ quotes, did it? 
*Cheer up, things could be worse.
*Growing old ain’t for sissies.
*Age is only a number.

The makeshift workout routine made a big difference. Not Crossfit or some other torture, but just enough.

Then, how do you evaluate a loving partner? Or kind and caring children? I absolutely know they bolstered my spirit many, many times.

So now what? Shoot for 100? It depends.

Quality of life, as they call it, is the key. If you can still walk, can shower and dress yourself, don’t put too fine a point on it. After all, 90 is old.

Another factor, tied for the first position, is your relationship status. Should you be coming up on your fiftieth anniversary, you are good. Otherwise, how did you even make it this far?

It is essential to dismiss thoughts of death because they will drag you down. As our dear friend, Bill Coffin once said, “I have too much to do in this world to worry about the next.”

Do I have any advice? Yeah. Let the past be the past and get on with it. Who knows, maybe you will see 2040.

Sincerely, Your 80-year-old Self

%d bloggers like this: