Do you feel marginalized as you age? I do.

Perhaps you’ve heard about a new article in The Atlantic by Science journalist Ed Yong entitled:

“The Final Pandemic Betrayal.” Mr. Yong won the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for this “series of lucid, definitive pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic that anticipated the course of the disease, synthesized the complex challenges the country faced, illuminated the U.S. government’s failures and provided clear and accessible context for the scientific and human challenges it posed.

The subtitle of Mr. Yong’s latest article from April 2022 is:

“Millions of people are still mourning loved ones lost to COVID, their grief intensified, prolonged, and even denied by the politics of the pandemic.” I saw an interview with him this week that really hit home for me. At least nine million of us have lost someone we knew and cared for and yet it seems we just go on, ignoring the tremendous losses to so many. In just two years, COVID became the third most common cause of death in the U.S., which means that it is also the third leading cause of grief.

“Each American who has died of COVID has left an average of nine close relatives bereaved, creating a community of grievers larger than the population of all but 11 states. Under normal circumstances, 10% of bereaved people would be expected to develop prolonged grief, which is unusually intense, incapacitating, and persistent. But for COVID grievers, that proportion may be even higher, because the pandemic has ticked off so many risk factors.”

In his recent interview, Mr. Yong discussed what is for me the most important aspect of this horrible loss of life. The groups hardest hit were “marginalized” sections of our society. Who are they? The elderly, those chronically ill, the weakened, the brown, the black and low income groups who have less access to decent health care.

My experience in the past eight years, as I grow older and my own health declines, has been a movement from a “normal” person to one who definitely feels marginalized. First with the aging process we slowly become invisible in our culture, or worse, someone who should just get out of the way of the younger and more vital. Yes, it’s true some help me with doors and seem to feel some compassion for my difficult circumstances, but I have experienced a pulling away from others as I have become more disabled. I have found it almost impossible to make true friends in this rural area. It seems just about nobody believes I am worth their time and energy. I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

In this way I have learned what “marginalized” means in this country. We have always put an emphasis on being healthy and able-bodied, and when I was also healthy I rarely noticed what happened to those who are not. Yes, I do have financial resources unlike so many Americans, but I do not live by bread alone. Thanks to those of you who have made an effort to welcome us here. And to the rest of you, I hope you don’t ever become elderly and need a friend.

Father-Daughter Relationships: What I learned after the death of my father

It is now two years since my father’s death. He died one week before the Covid-19 pandemic struck our country. I was watching an interview with Will Smith the other day, where he spoke about his alcoholic father and his death. The interviewer said, “You rarely say anything about your father,” and Will responded with, “He was never there, so what can I say.” About his father’s death Will said, “The death of my father started a new phase in my life.” I have to say I agree to some extent with both of these observations as they relate to my own life.

An older friend said to me in the past year or so, that after our parents die we may finally feel more comfortable being honest with ourselves about our relationships with them. That has been my process in the past two years. Yes, I’ve had lots of counseling, in fact the first time I went in was to discuss my problems with my father and how he couldn’t seem to be there for me. Yes, I agree that we would best get past our fixations with our parents’ behavior towards us. But I enjoy understanding my past and how that explains my behavior in the years following my childhood.

Human behavior fascinates me!

Suddenly, in the past week or so, I saw this simple quote and it blew my mind! As strange as it may seem, I was constantly seeking appreciation and approval from most males in my life after my father tended to ignore me most of my childhood. I never felt truly appreciated by him. The exchanges I remember with him were observations like, “You have all A’s on your report card except for this one B+. What happened there?” Yes, I turned to my father for criticism and judgment, and I usually got it. (Interestingly, my brother dropped out of high school and ran away instead of taking this criticism day after day!)

So then men became those whom I would always try harder to please.

WOW, am I slow in figuring these things out! I called my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ I could do nothing right around my “was-band.” And it wasn’t until my divorce in my late 40s that I figured out what I was doing and decided to do things differently. When I first met Mike, who seemed genuinely caring and loving towards me, I was always suspicious, waiting for him to reveal his true feelings and change into my super critic. We even had a joke between us about this, where he would say: “We’re married now ###. Things are going to change around here!”

In retrospect, I would say most of the friends I’ve known weren’t grateful to have me in their life. My first husband, a wealthy man, bargained with me on how much it would take to make me go away. When we arrived at a number, he asked me to sign a contract written on a napkin so that number couldn’t go up. Yep, I could certainly pick ’em! That is why it took me so long to truly trust Mike.

Why does it take us so long to learn these lessons? Because they were our first experiences in the world. My father represented the way men act towards me and I knew I wanted him to love me so I kept trying harder. I mean how many people do you know who have three Masters degrees?

Along the way I learned that those who are heartlessly critical of others are also boundlessly insecure within themselves, not good company for anyone…

The Pros and Cons of Writing an Autobiography

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself : ‘How alive am I willing to be?’” – Anne Lamott

Whether to create an autobiography is my latest writing dilemma. I go back and forth almost every day. I kept a journal from Junior High School on, so I certainly have the material to work with. I also have lots of pictures from my past. Don’t get me wrong. My goal is not to punish anyone. I just want to write something that some might enjoy reading some day.

PROS

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it be interesting to see where my mind was at in 9th grade? In college? In my 30s in comparison to my 60s? As a psychologist I would love to study my own transition from my early beliefs as a naive youngster to what I now like to call older and much wiser. Perhaps a study of how a liberated woman’s mind developed, starting in the mid-1950s.

I like to believe my life had meaning. One way to pass on that meaning is to write about it. As a member of the transitional, mid-Baby Boomer generation, from the conservative, sexist 1940s and 50s, to the 60s, 70s and beyond, I wish to acknowledge how much our country changed especially in terms of women’s lives and roles. I lived a non-traditional life of first building a career and delaying marriage. I chose not to have children, choosing instead to get to fully know myself before I brought anyone else into my life.

I lived most of my adult life working and single, enjoying the freedom that brings. I experienced a divorce (at age 45), which at least half of Baby Boomers have been through. I also spent a few years studying the trends in Baby Boomers in my 50s, and then wrote a book about them.

I have a graduate degree in psychology and studied midlife love for a few years after my divorce. I also opened my own version of a dating service in the early 2000s. That’s how I met husband number two, while trolling for matches for my women clients… My second book tells this story: How to Believe In Love Again.

I feel I have lots to share with other Baby Boomers and their children and grandchildren, eventually!

CONS:

What a lot of work! Do I have the stamina at this late date?

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past. As far as I’m concerned, I have already spent too much time thinking about what happened ‘back then.’ It seems to be one of my obsessions, and yet I do appreciate all the enticing memories I have from so many trips abroad and a few great love affairs. (You know who you were!) I find my trips down memory lane to be fantastic entertainment for when I’m sick and stuck in bed for days… It just seems like this is the right time to set the record straight in my own mind (before I lose it…LOL!)

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

And then there’s the whole question of seeing the past honestly and calling an asshole an asshole. On that topic I’m afraid I agree with my hero,

Anne Lamott: “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

As Anne says, acknowledging and telling our truth is what aging is all about!

But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” – Anne Lamott

A pilgrimage into my past…

A pilgrimage is a journey where a person goes in search of new meaning about their Self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life

When Mike first suggested that we drive to Manhattan Kansas to visit his older sister, I thought he was kidding. Neither one of us is crazy about Kansas, him less than me. You see, I was raised in Emporia, Kansas until age 11, when we moved to Boulder, Colorado. Talk about a culture shock as I entered my teens! But we always drove back to Kansas City at Christmas to see our grandparents on both sides, so this drive east felt somehow familiar to me. It was mostly uneventful until a truck pulling a long trailer almost changed lanes into us! Grrrrrrr…

To make up for it, we witnessed an AMAZING orange sunset behind us at the end of our day!

We rented a beautiful Airbnb apartment on Tuttle Creek Reservoir north of Manhattan and it was lovely. So well-appointed and comfortable, our home away from home. Mike got to spend some quality time with his sister, who suffers from a number of disabilities, and I had lots of time to relax and read.

This was our view of the lake from our apartment.

Then we experienced quite the adventure when we were in town having dinner on Wednesday. A tornado came right over us! We were at an Olive Garden when the storm hit. At first they said they couldn’t serve us and then they did because where else were we going to go? When our food came they told us to run in the kitchen if they called us, but the storm blew over eventually. It was quite the memorable Kansas dinner and the staff was so protective and friendly to us…

Yesterday we started east on I-70. Along the way we saw so many highway signs bent over backwards or completely destroyed by that storm! The wind was so fierce on Wednesday, but by Friday is was a beautiful sunny day with almost no wind. We decided to head south at Oakley, Kansas on the backroads, and I’m glad we did.

We observed hundreds of miles of tiny towns, silos everywhere, and Eastern Colorado farmland…

I was surprised to find how this trip east affected me emotionally. It brought back many memories of my father, who died last year. I felt his presence at various points in the trip and missed and mourned his passing over and over again. He loved collecting plants and birding along Kansas backroads.

Kansas was home to him…

One of my favorite movies EVER!

Raised in small towns in Iowa and Kansas, my first memories of Asia were greeting my Dad when he returned from his regular journeys to India. He always brought back beautiful souvenirs and slides to show us. As a child, the strangeness of this very different culture halfway around the world, fascinated me. I was also introduced to Indian music and food very early. To this day they are my favorites!

This is all to show you why I fell in love with the film “The Namesake” at first sight this week. The music, from the very beginning, with Tabu’s incredible voice(!), is exquisite. I couldn’t help but wish that this experience came with a lovely, big Indian meal. Mira Nair is my new favorite director. I must see more of her films! But what struck me the most was the emotional depth of her style of storytelling and the beauty of the people of India. That and how much I was drawn to the actor Irrfan Khan, who died this year at 53. He was truly “distinguished and charismatic” and “an enormously valuable bridge between South Asian and Hollywood cinema,” according to Peter Bradshaw of the “The Guardian.” I also loved him in the film “Puzzle” from 2018.

Coming to America….

The story is quite simple. The Namesake depicts the struggles of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, first-generation immigrants from West Bengal to the United States, and their American-born children Gogol and Sonia. The film takes place primarily in Kolkata India and the New York City area. I was constantly reminded of generational differences in my own family growing up, as this first generation American family struggled with the different cultures of India and America. And we thought our Dad didn’t understand our generation! Imagine what is must be like if your parents are from a culture a world away.

The film is also an excellent example of the contrasts between Eastern and Western cultures. The East is far more family and community oriented. They find Americans self-centered and even selfish. In the West we do what we please, especially when we are young. Family may become important later for us. I found this film to be a commentary on the toxic loneliness of American society today.

Northern Thailand, 1973

Ever since I lived in Bangkok in 1973-74, I have found Asia to be so different and yet so fascinating. As a teenager I felt almost like I had gone to the moon, everything was just so different compared to Kansas and Colorado. In college, graduate school and in my career as a librarian, I worked to bring these two worlds closer together in the eyes of Americans…

but now I can see that movies like this do the most for us all to truly understand and appreciate our own shared humanity. There is no world that needs this more now than the human race. I found this film so soothing…

It always feels good to do good, from homeless to a home in southern Colorado

Around a year ago, my brother-in-law drove down to Sedona Arizona to pick up my brother John. He didn’t drive and he was at the point where he could no longer live in a lean-to near Oak Creek. The weather was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, and the creek came up so high sometimes that it was too deep to get across for him to get into town. John has a bad case of emphysema and terrible lower back pain. He thought he would move up here to take care of my Mom after my Dad died last year.

A few weeks after moving in with Mom, he realized that that arrangement would not work long-term so he called me in Walsenburg. As luck would have it, a close friend had a house in La Veta that was empty for the winter, so John moved in to caretake. When spring arrived, my friend decided to rent that house out so John had to move, but where? He didn’t want to live with us. We have a thing about “being a burden” in our family, so he found what he thought would be a temporary place in a local motel. Being the perfect renter, the management of the place soon wanted him to act as night manager, but John wasn’t interested in that. He just wanted a small place of his own.

After he moved to Walsenburg we made sure he signed up for affordable housing asap, but were truly surprised when they found him his own apartment this past month. It is clean, quiet and extremely affordable, but had no furniture. Soon after that we ask our friends if they had any extra furniture. In no time John had a recliner, a couch, a nice rug and a bed. John is a humble man who does not expect much from those around him. He just wants a nice place out of the rain and snow to listen to NPR and play his guitar. Now he has that for the first time in years. We couldn’t be happier and we almost got him to smile!