Month: January 2015

Senior Maintenance

I went in for Senior Maintenance earlier this week. The outpatient surgery was to rid my right ear of a cholesteatoma (A benign tumor). I know I’m past the anesthesia fog and body trauma because I’m in the next stage of recovery: I’m very crabby. My poor husband, who, as always, has seen to my every need and even anticipated a few, is, of course, getting the brunt of my crabbiness. The house is a mess, the food is off (and he’s a great cook), the couch is lumpy, the house is too cold or too hot, etc., etc., etc. I’m dying to go out for a walk but I have this space helmet over the right side of my head which is going to get a lot of attention and garner a lot of questions. And the bottom line is I’m too crabby to answer them. That takes way too much energy. So I’m a crabby captive in the house.

Senior Maintenance is one of the negative by-products of living into your 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Our aging bodies are in constant need of repair. There’s the knee and hip replacements which many of my friends have had – and I’ve definitely got a new knee in my future. Most of my friends have had cataract surgery and mine is already scheduled for the end of this month. And let’s not even get into teeth – you all already know how much my mouth is worth.

We get shots for arthritis, rheumatism and wrinkles. (Okay, that’s not a medical condition, but maybe it should be). And there’s physical therapy for every body part that’s repaired or just sore. Then there’s the more serious repairs such as tuning up the heart, cleaning out valves and replacing leaky parts. And now (thank goodness) modern medicine often has enough medicines and procedures to treat cancer so we can say that someone is “living with cancer”. The bottom line is that by the time you reach 70, most people are living with some repairs, chronic illness and/or body pain that needs to be controlled, repaired or maintained.

Our calendars are filled with doctor’s appointments. There’s the ophthalmologist on Monday, the orthopedist on Tuesday, the ENT doc on Wednesday, the internist on Thursday and the dentist on Friday. Then we have Saturday and Sunday to rest up and get ready for the next week. You have to be retired by at least the age of 70 or you won’t have time to make your doctor appointments, let alone the time you need to recover from the latest maintenance.

When we get together with friends, we have to be careful to limit the time we talk about our maintenance issues. A friend calls it “The Organ Recital” and she actually sets a stop watch for 15 minutes; then time is up and we must move on to other topics. This is a good thing as it is unhealthy to dwell on maintenance and there are definitely better things to talk about.

Since all this does sound rather overwhelming, you must be wondering (if you’re not a senior) how we manage to enjoy life in spite of all our maintenance issues. We’ll, in addition to the doctor’s appointments, there is still time for reading, lectures, golf, fishing, movies, classes, etcetera- you get the idea. So we do have active lives. In fact, our children complain that they can never reach us because we’re always out.

What about the discomfort that comes with achy body parts? We’ll, I read an article that said pain from various malfunctions comes on slowly through older age so people get used to living with it. So you have an ache here or a pain there; just part of getting up in the morning. Unless it is overwhelming pain from a major problem or an illness that seriously limits activities, seniors are able to continue with their usual activities.

And then there is life itself. What a great motivator! There is time now to make a difference by giving all our energy (or what’s left of it after regular maintenance) to a good cause or helping someone in need. We can use our individual talents in ways we decide on, instead of a boss telling us what to do. Or we can pursue an educational goal that has always been elusive. We can read all those books we’ve heard about or work on our golf swing, our swimming strokes, and our new bicycle.

My husband and I have found one of the most important things in our lives are our adult children and our granddaughter. We enjoy hearing about our children’s triumphs and are glad we can be there to sympathize with the problems life throws at you. We are able to impart the perspective of people who have already lived through many of those issues. (On the other hand, what adult child wants to hear that perspective?) Most of all, we just enjoy their company, their stories, their fresh perspectives on life issues.

And then there is our granddaughter. Watching her grow and change with the years – no, the months and sometimes, the days- is enough on its own to keep us going in for repairs. It seems like one day she was a baby and the next a first grader, already going to her room with a new book, shutting the door for complete privacy while she devours it. Is there anything better than seeing a new generation fall in love with books?

So there are plenty of reasons to continue with maintenance. Which means I’d better get my act together and go out for a walk, ear hat riding jauntily over the right side of my head, dirty hair poking out around it. This too will pass and life is too precious to miss a moment.

A Minority in a Christian Nation

For many Americans, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year”. Families reunite for the holiday, tables are loaded with traditional foods and pastries, trees and homes are decorated with ornaments that have been handed down generation after generation, and last, but definitely not least, the Christian faith is reaffirmed and celebrated.

But what is it like this time of year, in a country dominated by Christianity, for those individuals who ascribe to another belief, culture or even race? Does Hanukah or Kwanza fill the void or are we all overwhelmed by the overwhelming holiday of Christmas?

I was a member of one of fifty Jewish families in my home town and one of only two Jewish students in my class. In those days (1950’s) religion was still allowed in the public schools so daily, I mumbled through a Christian prayer that started the school day and sat quietly through religious programs during the holidays. Occasionally, I endured antisemitic remarks from other children on the playground and, as I reached my teens, sometimes from boys I dated who did not know I was Jewish.

My best friend from those days and still today (aren’t I lucky?) has an enduring memory of a walk to school with another girl who began interjecting antisemitic remarks into the conversation. My friend was bewildered and angry and I was hurt and scared. Where, I ask myself today, does a grade school child learn this kind of language?

Being Jewish was much worse during the Christmas season. My friends talked excitedly about decorating trees and what they expected from Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve. Every year my friend would invite me to her house to help trim the Christmas tree which my parents always allowed. However, they consistently refused to allow a tree in our house. One year, I remember asking – no, begging – my father to let us have a tree. It didn’t need to be a Christmas tree, I explained. It would just be fun to decorate and to look at. We could call it a Hanukah Bush. My father, a gentle, soft-spoken man who I knew loved me unequivocally, turned a hard, stern face toward me and said, “No. We celebrate Hanukah and we do not have a Christmas tree.”

My parents did allow me to go caroling with my Girl Scout troupe and I loved that, going house-to-house in the cold, Northern Minnesota December, singing carols with my friends and feeling a part of the holiday, part of the Christmas spirit. I wished and wished that I wasn’t Jewish, that I wasn’t different.

But I grew up and learned that being Jewish was not only who I am, but that it is important to me. It is my identity as a person, as a woman and I embrace it. I understand my heritage and I am proud of it. My husband and I raised our three children in the Jewish religion and never had a Christmas tree. One year when the children were still grade school age, the doorbell rang on Christmas Eve and I opened it to my next-door neighbor standing on the porch, supporting a small Christmas tree. He explained that when he picked up his tree from the lot, the proprietor gave him the last unsold tree so he could close up. We were the only family our neighbor could think of who didn’t already have a tree. Would we like it? he asked.

Our three children were all at the door, looking at me, beseeching me to take it. The decision was mine alone since my husband, a physician, was at the hospital, taking call for his Christian counterparts. But I knew, just like my father knew many years before, that I couldn’t take it. We were Jewish and it was important to uphold our identity. My children were disappointed but I knew they would eventually understand, just as I had.

I embrace all our many differences! They are what make us who we are. They should be shared, enjoyed and celebrated. But they should never, ever be forced on anyone else. That’s what our country was founded on and that’s what our laws embrace. We are free to worship and live according to our own sets of beliefs and principles, as long as they do not infringe on anyone else. I know most of us try hard not to do this, but sometimes, and in some places, belief can be so strong that a person feels his or her way is the only way. I answer them with a resounding NO! Please celebrate and honor your beliefs in your home and your place of worship and not in the community at large. Remember the child who is out of place, out of color, or out of sync. I believe it is our job, as adults, to help children understand their own heritage and to grow up into adults who can make their own decisions about faith and family.

I hope I don’t sound like Scrooge but the Christmas season does tend to make me ponder. However, I have found that, as I grow older, I have a very different attitude about celebrating this time of year. When I watch my friends cook and bake, scurry from store to store to find the perfect gift, drag box after box of decorations out of hiding and finally, on January 2, put the tree out on the corner for pick-up before they collapse with exhaustion, I feel only relief as I luxuriate on the couch with a book or at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day. But mostly, I’m glad they are my friends and that we can enjoy our differences.