When I was young, we called them old folks homes. People use more enlightened terminology these days. Retirement Homes. Assisted Living. Convalescent Homes. Unfortunately, these places are still quite often used as warehouses for the elderly and the inconvenient.
Having chosen not to have children, I often worry about my future. I don’t fear death. What I fear is winding up in one of those human warehouses, my body being indifferently maintained by strangers. That, to me, would be hell on earth.
I come by that feeling honestly. There’s an image embedded deep in my brain that I will carry with me for as long as I live. It is of an old, emaciated man, in a dimly lit room, and he’s crying.
I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. I was on a field trip. We had spent several days hand making Christmas cards in class in preparation for our visit to an old folks home nearby. We sang Christmas carols, and we gave out these cards.
I was a shy, quiet, chronically depressed child. All this activity and noise had me really intimidated. I hung back and watched as the other kids gave out their cards, with mixed results. Many of the patients were unresponsive. One ate a card as if it were a Christmas cookie. The attendants seemed unconcerned.
Other residents were, if anything, overly responsive, shouting with delight and giving bear hugs. They scared me most of all. I don’t come from a demonstrative household, and I wasn’t comfortable with this kind of behavior from total strangers. I didn’t want to give my card to one of them. It would take some research to find the perfect nonintrusive and yet mentally present elderly person to interact with.
One advantage to being the most quiet child in a group is that you get to fly under the radar. That’s how I found myself wandering all alone down a deserted side hall. It was quiet there. What a relief.
At the end of the hall I saw a partially opened door. I peeked inside. The shades were closed and the lights were low. It was really hard to see, but I could tell that there was someone lying in a bed. I thought this person was sleeping. Maybe I could sneak in and leave the card on the nightstand and then make a break for it, having fulfilled my obligation.
So I went inside, approaching the bed as quietly as I could. But before I could put the card down, a claw-like hand reached out and took it. I turned to look at the man, and was instantly terrified. He had tubes and wires coming from all directions, and he was so skeletally thin that he barely looked alive. And yet there he was, gazing at my card. My heart was pounding out of my chest.
And then he started to cry. I hate it when men cry, because many of them do it so rarely that it means they really, really feel it. It makes me feel helpless.
He said, “Nobody ever comes to visit me. Thank you so much.”
I said, “You’re welcome. I have to go now.” And I backed out of the room.
The adult me wishes I had done more. I wish I had stayed and talked. I wish I had touched his hand. I wish I had wished him a Merry Christmas. Something. But I was just a scared kid who was entirely out of her element.
I haven’t always been able to afford fancy gifts at this time of year. But sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is to just show up. Ever since that long ago day, I’ve done my best to at least show up for the people in my life. It’s not much, but sometimes it can be everything.
Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it. Equal amounts of love and respect to those who don’t.
I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.
My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.
Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.
We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.
Maybe birthdays ought to be a day in which we take a moment to celebrate ourselves. We give ourselves many gifts throughout the year. They may not be wrapped up in a big bow, but still, they are gifts.
Doing the right thing is a gift, as is making the hard, but rational, choices. Not eating that third, delicious slice of pie because you know that in the end it will make you feel sick is a gift. Saying no is often the biggest gift you can give yourself, because it isn’t easy, but in the end it’s such a relief. And saying yes is a gift too, because sometimes you need to take a risk and push that outer envelope.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a huge gift, and it often reaps unexpected rewards. Giving people space to be themselves is a gift, because it enriches your world. Giving a hug is like receiving a gift, and it often keeps on giving.
A great gift to give is cutting yourself a little slack. There are plenty of people out there who are going to be hard on you. You should not be one of them.
The biggest gift we give ourselves is acting with integrity, being kind, and treating others with respect, because until we do these things, we cannot expect them in return.
So today, and every day of the year, give yourself a gift. Celebrate the wonderful person you are. By doing that, you’re giving a gift to the world.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s my favorite holiday. No gift buying. Just good food and good people. It’s a time when we all focus on what we are thankful for. What’s not to love about that?
I have long maintained that an attitude of gratitude is what we need to get along, And I think that attitude should be maintained all year round, not just on Thanksgiving day. There’s much in this life that we can be thankful for.
I’ve written a great deal about gratitude. So much, in fact, that I’ve published an anthology entitled, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It’s available on Amazon, and I guarantee you that I’ll be grateful if you purchase it! It would make a great gift for the ones you are most grateful for. (Especially if you do want to give someone a gift for cooking all that great food for you on the big day.)
Having said that, check out one of my favorite posts from the book, entitled Congratulations, You’re Alive! and know that I’m grateful for you, dear reader, every single day.
I was completely befuddled when I heard that expression for the first time the other day. But once it was explained to me, it immediately became part of my personal philosophical handbook. We should all live our dashes.
Imagine your tombstone. It will include the date you were born, a dash, and the date you died. That dash is your life. Your whole entire life, boiled down to one tiny symbol on a tombstone. That’s pretty sobering.
You are the only one who will know what that dash has meant, from beginning to end. Only you will have borne witness to every millimeter of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The joyous. The profound. The horrible. The intense. The amazing.
That dash will be made up of all your risks and opportunities and triumphs and failures. It will sum up all your achievements. It will mark your generosity and your selfishness, your inspiration and your despair. It will also include a lot of wasted time.
Try not to waste too much time. Make something outstanding of your dash. Live! Love! Travel! Experience as much as you possibly can.
Devour life. It’s the best gift you will ever be given. And the value of that gift will be what you make of it.
In some cultures, humility is prized over self-esteem. I get that. In crowded or isolated places, getting along with others is more of a survival skill than feeling good about yourself will ever be.
But it breaks my heart to see how many people walk this earth without knowing just how special they are. Yeah. I’m talking to you. You’re special.
First of all, you’ve been given the gift of life. That’s amazing in and of itself. The odds were stacked against you. If the earth had been a little closer to the sun, or a little farther away, life wouldn’t exist. If gravity were a little stronger or a little weaker, life wouldn’t exist. If all that star stuff hadn’t come together in exactly the right combination, life wouldn’t exist.
On a more personal note, every one of your ancestors had to survive just long enough to meet and reproduce, for hundreds of generations, so that just the right sperm would meet up with just the right egg at just the right time for you to be you. What are the chances? You are a miracle. What a gift you are!
And every single one of us brings different qualities and skills to the table. I, for one, am grateful that there are musicians in this world. If I had to rely on my own talents for music, I would be suffering indeed. I’m also thrilled that there are people out there with a talent for science and math and cooking and building. We all serve a purpose. We all have value.
And we certainly aren’t all carbon copies of each other. Thank goodness! How boring would that be?
If you genuinely cannot answer the question “What makes you so special?” I strongly encourage you to ask your friends and loved ones. I guarantee you that they’ll know. Their answers may or may not surprise you, but it will be good information to have, if only as a reminder on those bad hair days that all of us suffer through every once in a while.
It’s also a good idea to be mindful that those around you may not be aware how amazing they are, either. Tell them. Remind them often. It costs you nothing but a few moments, and it will be priceless to the person to whom you give that gift.
The other morning, I went into the kitchen to fix some breakfast for me and my dog, and the entire room was full of rainbows. It didn’t last long, and no, I wasn’t hallucinating. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Diamond-like drops of water were hanging down from the awning outside my window, and the sun was out for a change, and at the perfect angle to cast its light through those drops, causing the rainbows. The mirror in the kitchen also happened to multiply them. I stood there for a moment, embraced by color, thinking how wonderful it is to be alive. What a wonderful life I’ve had and am still having!
Afterward, while poaching an egg, I wondered if my loved ones know I feel that way. You see, I do struggle with depression. I have done so my entire life. I suspect I’m better at hiding that from strangers than I am from the people who are closest to me. I can see how it would be easy to assume I lead a joyless existence.
That’s the beauty of having a blog. You get to put your thoughts and feelings out there for all to see. So, in the event I’m run over by a bus tomorrow, here, for the record, is how I feel about my life.
On the whole, I try to look at every day as a precious gift. I’ve been given ample opportunity to learn and to travel and to experience amazing things. I’ve loved a lot of people, and I’ve been loved in return. I’ve had quite a bit of good luck, having been born in a relatively free country with relatively good opportunities, at a time in this nation’s history when women have had relatively few restrictions, and I have cherished that independence.
If anything, I’ve eaten too well. I’ve mostly experienced decent shelter. I have taken advantage of the brain that I was born with. Even in my darkest hours (and there have been plenty of those), I have never forgotten that most people are far less fortunate than I have been, and I try not to forget that I’ve done very little to deserve this privilege.
There have been enough unexpected rainbows in my life to make me feel grateful. I am, right here and now, happy with how my life has turned out, and excited about what’s to come. Because of that, I fully intend to look both ways before stepping into any bus lanes. I hope you will do the same, dear reader.