Sharing

The other day Todd told me a joke. After all our years together, I figured I had heard all of his jokes. But after he finished, I told him that I was sure he had never told me that one. He laughed and said that maybe he still had a few secrets after all. Consequently, I began thinking about secrets and sharing.

I think many people would probably agree that one of the best parts of marriage is sharing life with your best friend. In new marriages there is, I think, a sense of mutual conspiracy and an underlying touch of pity for the rest of us poor schmucks. Anyone else’s love is obviously not as wonderful as theirs. A wedding card I saw recently stated: “The fragile threads of love and sharing sew people together through all the years of marriage.” I didn’t buy that one.

Sharing everything sets up in our minds an ideal: that if two people really love one another, then they must always tell each other absolutely every detail and secret. But once one has been married for awhile, one realizes that there are at least a few things you don’t know about your partner. I think that’s true no matter how long you have been together. For instance: the real thoughts in his head as he drifts off to sleep – you can guess, but you don’t know for sure. You want to believe that you really know him, that the person who is closest to you is completely knowable. Maybe this boils down to a need to feel protected from the complications and hazards of real life, in one’s own small perfect space. But does a couple need to share everything?

The idea of complete honesty and sharing in a relationship presents a lovely picture of how two people can live in harmony forever. The problem is that in order to be kind to one’s partner, and maybe in order to sustain the relationship, maybe sometimes it’s necessary to keep some thoughts to oneself. A person who cannot tolerate secrets in a relationship, who then in the name of ‘being honest’, shares information that might be so wounding that it can never be forgotten, is no friend of love or marriage.

How could you ever sit and enjoy a sunny afternoon reading a book, or cooking dinner, or holding a simple conversation if you knew absolutely everything your partner was feeling at any given time? Obviously I am not referring to an affair or anything like that. But perhaps your partner has hidden things for his own reasons. He has hidden it, perhaps the way you hide precious things that are particularly precious to you. Maybe we all need a few secrets, some things we don’t necessarily share.

The joke he told me the other day wasn’t his best one. But, if you ever run into Todd, have him tell you the one about Mimono, the wrestler. It’s a great one to share. In my opinion it is without a doubt the best joke of all time, and Todd tells it supremely well.

Optimism

I’ve heard it said that the pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

Some people have undying optimism. I think that I do. But it can be dangerous. For one thing, it’s naïve. I think that sometimes optimism is partially the desire not to face facts, because facing facts might require action, and sometimes people have trouble with the action part. I do. Facing facts can mean admitting how powerless you really are. Sometimes facing facts means acknowledging failure. So you keep “trying”. You, or maybe I, keep seeing the glass as half full maybe because one of us is a coward?

Todd found this optimistic dandelion blooming in our backyard yesterday, January 7, 2020. I want to be as optimistic as this dandelion. Therefore, I am fervently optimistic that our country will not stumble into another war, and that by next January Donald Trump will no longer be President.

New Year Ahead

Incredibly, it’s the end of another year, which brings the inevitable question: Have you made your resolutions yet? I always make a few, but they’re usually pretty standard. Last year, I challenged myself with some loftier ones. Today I read back over the ones I made on this blog last year. They were good ones, though, to be honest, I was not all that successful keeping them. So I am going to make them my resolutions again for 2020, and try harder to stick to them this year.

The first resolution was to push fear away, and to try to figure out my life purpose. I promised to let myself off the hook and stop feeling guilty about the things that are out of my control. I resolved to make more of an effort to let go of fear, anger, guilt, and regret. I also resolved to keep telling the people I love in no uncertain terms just how much I cherish them. I actually think I’ve done pretty well with that one.

Those resolutions are all keepers, but I am also going to add a few new ones. For 2020 and beyond, I am going to stop saying, “I’m sorry” for things that don’t require an apology. It’s a bad habit I need to break. I also resolve to continue to refuse to become the invisible older woman, even as life sometimes seems to push me toward that more and more. Just because I am getting older does not mean I can no longer create and grow. So another one of my resolutions is that I want to live as fully in the years ahead as I did when I was younger. As I reflect on my joys, despairs, and accomplishments, I will continue to share my stories, thoughts, and maybe even a few bits of wisdom. I will write and make music and laugh and dance and sing, and maybe even try a new thing or two. Our society is steeped in ageism and sexism. So as a woman in my late sixties I consider it a challenge, as well as a resolution, to be a small part of forging a new Feminist revolution, helping combat both those things.

I hope that my resolutions about fighting ageism and sexism will become part of my own personal legacy for my daughter, granddaughter, and daughter-in-law; that they don’t have to fear growing older, or feel the need to beat back the clock by any means necessary. For one thing, you just can’t, no matter what you do. I resolve to try to show them how to age with grace, even if they don’t even realize that’s what I was trying to do until after I’m gone. I want to be the mentor for them that I always wished I had. Years ago, I regarded old age as something way down the road, stretching years and years beyond me on some far away and fuzzy horizon. Old age only happened to other people. Remember ‘Never trust anyone over thirty’? My only excuse for that is that I was young, naive, and stupid. When I look in the mirror today I am forced to admit that I am a long way beyond both thirty, even though I feel pretty good most days. Hey, it’s great to be 68. I resolve never to forget that.

With 2019 ending and 2020 dead ahead, I believe that everyone needs some kind of faith, though not necessarily a religious one. Everyone needs faith that even though the world seems more and more full of evil, the girl will be able to escape the tower, the big, bad wolf will die, and that even those poisoned by malevolence can be restored, not to innocence, but to righteousness.

I like this quote from the writer Neil Gaiman: “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness… I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write, draw, build, sing, or live as only you can. And I hope somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. ”

I ended my New Year’s post last year with my personal word for 2019: dogged. I promised “to be dogged, to keep striving to live better and fearlessly, to resist getting angry at all those things that are out of my control, to leave regret and guilt out of my vocabulary… to be dogged, to never, ever, ever give up.”

I still like that word, and those goals. So I think I will give that resolution another shot this year. In 2020 I am also going to try to remember the words of Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Happy New Year to all!

Still Confused

Nearly every time I log onto Facebook these days I am confronted with a number of my contemporaries spouting their continued, undying support for Donald J. Trump. This mystifies me as much as it did three years ago. What the hell is wrong with them? That they support possibly the most evil, criminal man who has ever served as President baffles me, to say the least. And so many of them claim to be convinced that he is God’s Chosen One. This makes me wonder: was God was out of locusts the day he decided that? (I wish I could take credit for that thought. But alas, it was my clever husband who said that the other day.) Personally, I think we would have been far better off with clouds of locusts. Many claim to support him because he is against abortion. If they found out he had paid for as many abortions as I suspect he did, they would make some other sad excuse for him. How did the people I grew up with, my fellow baby-boomers, become so rigid and authoritarian?

It has been shown in studies that intellectual curiosity declines with old age. To be honest, many of the boomers I am personally acquainted with were never very intellectually curious in the first place. Many of them came back to, or never left, the rural area they call home. I’m not putting down rural areas. I live in one. But I have always been a curious person. Remember the Lily-Maid-of-Ask-a-Lot?

I understand that these are generalizations, but honestly, many of the people I grew up with don’t seem very open to me. As in, not open to anything new, certainly not any new thoughts. They want things to be the way they have always been for them… and to remain all white. New thoughts and ideas are scary to them. It seems to me that people who are open to new ideas, challenge the status quo, or disrespect authority are a threat to them. Openness is the intellectual antidote to prejudice, injustice, and totalitarianism. And they want no part of any of that intellectualism. They prefer life to be black and white. And, trust me, they like white a whole lot better. They would just as soon stay in their comfortable cocoon of prejudice and hatred, all the while proclaiming their Christianity. They prefer Fox News’ ‘alternative facts’ to the truth. In my estimation, most of them seem to believe that preserving anything ‘old’ or ‘the way it used to be’ is more important than acquiring new knowledge.

While most people acknowledge that change is inevitable, the conservative Boomers I know see change as disruptive and stressful. Thus, conservatism increases familiarity, which in turn increases conservatism. If it’s not familiar, it’s scary; therefore it makes them insecure. I know these are generalizations, and do not apply to all Boomers. But it sure applies to a bunch of people I know.

They frustrate me with their ignorance. So I take deep breaths and count to ten on a regular basis to keep from spouting back angry retorts to the continuing deluge of falsehoods they regularly post on social media. I have found that while I’m counting to ten and twenty and beyond, it helps if I whisper, “We the people, we the people” to myself when people are irritating me. It helps to remind me that we are all in this together, and they have as much right to their opinions as I do… even if they are dead, flat wrong.

I have read that there is evidence for the idea that people become more exaggerated versions of themselves as they age. If this is true, then I guess the contemporaries I refer to were always that way. I just never noticed… because I was young, preoccupied, or just oblivious, In other words, people are like wine: the good ones get better with age; the bad ones get worse.

Nice

I was flipping through stations on my car radio the other day when I happened across a seasonal classic. The line that blared out before I zipped to the next station was: “Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice”. Consequently, I began musing about nice people. Nice people give others the benefit of the doubt, are always ready to lend a hand, or even chair the committee that he or she didn’t even want to be part of in the first place, simply because that no one else wants to do it. Nice people are considerate; nice people treat others the way they’d like to be treated. Nice people do it not because they “should” or because they will feel guilty otherwise, but because that’s the way they are. They’re sensitive to the feelings of others, easy to be around, and rarely argue. What’s not to like? But, come on, is there anybody who is nice all the time? I mean, really? Some of the “nice” people I know tend to be anxious, even somewhat depressed, because of the pressure, which they’ve internalized, to be nice at all times.

Growing up, the necessity of being a nice girl was drilled into my head. And I think that I’ve been nice much of the time. I want to be the person who holds her head up high, oblivious to the nastiness around. But I am not always that person. What does it mean to be a nice person? When you want to be a nice person and you’re not being one (in your own eyes or someone else’s), do you need to twist the logic to be able to live with yourself? Along my path to adulthood I figured out that there is honest-to-goodness-for-real-nice, polite-nice, polite-nice-even-if-you-don’t-want-to-be-nice, follow-the-rules-nice, and don’t-say-it-out-loud-but-show-your-feelings-anyway-nice. On any given day I can be any or all those things. What about you?

Memory

My Mom suffered from dementia during her last years. A good friend’s mother did too. So we occasionally share tips for keeping our minds sharp; things like brushing teeth or buttoning a shirt with one’s opposite hand, and counting backward from 100 by 7’s. We don’t know whether they help, but it makes us feel better to make the effort, I guess. No one wants to lose precious memories.

Memory is incongruous. It can be selective, like people my age who complain about kids or Millennials, forgetting their own behavior “back in the day”. Memory can also be the feeling of a touch you had forgotten that somehow comes back to you in the shape of a blackberry pie. It is the scent of walking past a stranger’s home when dinner is cooking, and those familiar smells suddenly fill you with an inescapable yearning. Sometimes you can almost feel as if you have fallen into a vortex and are rushing back in time.

Memory is a temperamental and occasionally sadistic beast. You forget where you left your car keys and yet you remember the first gift you gave to your boyfriend for Christmas in 1966. You momentarily forget the password for your FB account, which you obviously know because you use it daily, but you instantly recall the phone number of the house where you grew up. Sometimes you remember, out of nowhere seemingly, the lyrics to a long-forgotten song, and yet you can’t seem to remember what you fixed for dinner two nights ago. Cherish is a word I use to describe… all the feelings….

Why do we easily remember some things, and why does the powerful, magical entity that is our brain hold out on other things? How does some of the most vital stuff slip away? Is it possible that the memories we have are not always true, but simply what we have dreamed them to be, as in the case of my fellow boomers and their selective memories?

Maybe it helps to know that life doesn’t always demand memory. A chameleon licking a leaf dripping with dew doesn’t ask where the water came from. It just drinks.

(Don’t Give Me) That Old-Time Religion

There were three churches in the small town where I grew up. My family attended the Church of Christ, but there were also Methodist and Nazarene churches. Most of my friends attended either my church or the Methodist. We always felt sorry for the kids who attended the Nazarene Church. That church was strict about girls and women not wearing makeup, and that was something we looked forward to. The Nazarene Church also frowned on dancing, and my friends and I couldn’t wait to be old enough to attend the Junior High, which held periodic dances. We also felt sorry for the Nazarene kids because their church was housed in a metal building, not “nice” ones like ours. The core beliefs might not have been that far apart, but one of the major disagreements revolved around baptism. My church firmly, righteously, insisted on verbally dedicating one’s life to Christ by the early teens at the latest, followed by immersion. The other two churches baptized by “sprinkling”, and each insisted its way was the only way. I guess all those “Judge not that ye be not judged” speeches fell on deaf ears.

When I was in 4th grade, we got a new pastor. He and his wife had three young boys. Initially, they were welcomed warmly by our congregation. The pastor was young, enthusiastic, and his joyful spirit spread quickly through our congregation. When I was in Junior High, it was our pastor’s idea to take the Junior High youth group to the city of Akron to see the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I remember how plush the seats were, so much nicer than in our little hometown Duncan Theater. How I laughed at that movie, and afterward we went out to eat, which I think was a pretty rare thing for any of us then. It sounds silly, but I had so much faith then, faith in my church, faith in the world, even faith in my faith.

My youthful attendance at the Church of Christ in my little town was awash in salvation testimonials that consistently backfired for me. Meant to inspire with tales of redemption, more often than not these stories, books, and films clued me in to the horrors of the world. For instance, there were the knife fights I learned about in The Cross and the Switchblade. My Sunday school teachers all kept warning us that something would forever be missing from our lives if we didn’t completely immerse ourselves in the religious dogma they insisted on drumming into our heads. But for me, all the lectures began to turn me against what I started to think might be fake Christianity.

The faith that I still had was shaken later that year when our Sunday School teacher chastised a teen visiting from another town, telling her that she must convert to “our” particular church or she would go to hell. That church didn’t baptize by immersion as ours did, and “everyone knew”, the teacher said, that immersion was the only way to be saved. A couple of others and I questioned the teacher. We were told that good Christians never questioned. But I did, and I felt terrible for that girl, who fought back tears that day, and never visited our church again. A few years later, a group of people from our church chased our pastor, that fine man, out of the ministry because he once rode a sled downhill with the woman who taught our High School Sunday School class.

For a long time after that, even after I grew up, and still completely believed, I had the pervading feeling that something could be missing from my life, different things at different times. But why? Why was something missing? If not success, then love, if not love, then friendship, if not friendship, then something else, even something as simple as an ingredient. Is there a cook alive who has not had the experience of baking cookies; creaming the butter and sugar, mixing in the eggs, then adding the flour, baking soda, salt, and vanilla, and only then realizing that someone has found and eaten the entire bag of chocolate chips she thought she had hidden so well? Occasionally, I even used to wake up and wonder: what will be missing today?

Eventually, I fell away from religion. Today, I see religion as completely wrapped up with Republican policies. I know that doesn’t explain why I fell away to begin with. Many people who are religiously unaffiliated still believe in God. But the scandals in the church of my youth sparked a crisis of faith for me. I began to view religion’s rules as antiquated, restrictive, and irrelevant to my life. Today I am at the point that I can barely stand Christian conservatives and their social agenda.

I identified as a Christian, at least intellectually, for many years, even though I no longer attended church. But, more and more, I began to believe that Christianity might be a crock of shit. I kept up appearances, mostly so that I didn’t get the “I’ll pray for you!” If I told people what I actually felt, I knew I’d get the ‘talk’. “Do you really want to burn in Hell?” I thought Jesus was okay. He seemed like a decent guy. But if I mentioned that I wasn’t convinced he ever lived, and moreover, if he did, he was not white, given the area of the world in which he lived, I was met with either condescension or disgust. “Judge not that ye be not judged” seemed to apply to deaf ears of all ages.

If I asked random Christians to explain the Gospel, could the majority of them explain it? I doubt it. If you can’t explain your faith, do you really know it? I think if you asked most professed Christians why they are Christian, they would immediately tell you that they were born into a Christian household. It’s like hearing someone proclaim that they are Republican or Democrat because that is the environment their parents raised them in.

Many of the “Christians” who are my FB friends seem to ascribe to the moral view of God as some sort of cosmic genie who will give you candy if you are a “good” Christian, like the butterscotch candy my Grandma used to give me as long as she thought I was being nice. If we are nice to each other, we’ll end up at the pearly gates. Of course, for the majority of the “good” Christians that I know, being nice only seems to apply to being nice to other white folks. The mark of Christians I see today is outrage and condescension, particularly when it comes to politics. If someone says something they disagree with, they show no signs of respecting that person, let alone loving them.

My Mom and I disagreed about lots of things. By the time I was a full-fledged adult, I did not share her religion. I got on her nerves sometimes, and she surely got on mine. But we always loved each other. Our differences of opinion didn’t really matter, and made us appreciate each other more. She would prefer that I not burn in Hell because I never took my children to church. But she loved me.

Now, it annoys me to no end when someone implies that one has to embrace a certain religion to hold to any standards of behavior. I respect everyone’s right to believe as they wish. For me, in spite of the fact that I am part of the rapidly growing group of the un-churched, my life is full.