GratiTuesday: Walkie-Talkies

Walking is my favorite form of exercise and, fortunately, our neighborhood offers safe places to walk along with a reasonable number of hills. My regular 1-hour, 3-mile walk is the perfect time and distance to listen to one of my favorite podcasts. But, as much as I enjoy listening to This American Life, the Ted Radio Hour, or Planet Money, I usually prefer to walk with a partner… and my favorite walking partner is my husband.

Walking gives us a chunk of uninterrupted time to just talk. Our discussions range from mundane household topics to plans for upcoming events to political and social issues. But, whatever we talk about, there are no computer screens, phone calls, or other distractions competing for our attention. It’s just us and whatever we want to talk about… or not. I enjoy just walking together in silence too.

I am grateful that my husband likes to join me on my walks and that we both relish the time we can spend just being together.

We are the Storm

The concept for the Women’s March in Washington D.C. started as germ of an idea a grandmother in Hawaii had who was devastated by Trump’s presidential victory. Because she felt compelled to do something, she created a Facebook event page calling for a march on our nation’s capital. She expected a handful of people to sign up; a day after her post, she had more than 10,000 responses.

From that initial idea, a movement was started. Soon, in addition to the Women’s March in Washington D.C., solidarity marches were being planned all over the United States and around the world in opposition to President Trump’s agenda, and support of women’s rights and human rights in general.

Artist Brian Andreas created a poster just for the Women's March
Artist Brian Andreas created a poster just for the Women’s March

Today, my husband and I joined an estimated 30,000 – 40,000 of our fellow citizens to walk in the Women’s March in San Diego.

The crowds were large, loud, friendly, and optimistic. Some carried children and some carried signs, but all carried a determination to make their voices heard. As we stood in the on-and-off sprinkling of rain listening to a group of speakers, there was a palpable feeling that the crowd was anxious to start their march and show their numbers.

Travelers on a docked cruise ship watched and (some) cheered as we walked by.
Travelers on a docked cruise ship watched and (some) cheered as we walked by.

And march we did: from the Civic Center Plaza, down Broadway towards the Embarcadero, and finally culminating at San Diego’s Administration Building, one mile away. The crowds were so large that by the time the first of the marchers reached their destination, there were still those who were just leaving the staging area.

As I was walking with the other participants, I couldn’t help feeling that my mother and father were there right beside me. Many years ago, I joined them as they protested and marched against another very unpopular president and a war that exacted a huge human cost. If they were still alive, I am confident that they would have joined us today.

Media reports are indicating that the “sister marches” in all fifty states have shattered participation expectations. In addition, large crowds attended marches around the world, including, London, Paris, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Sydney, Australia. A friend of mine currently visiting Oaxaca, Mexico joined about 500 marches there. Global estimates indicate that over 3 million individuals participated in the marches, up from the 1.3 million initially anticipated.

I am confident that this won’t be the last time we are asked to raise our voices in solidarity. And, it won’t be the last time I answer “Yes.” As was written on one of the signs held by a fellow marcher:

The devil whispered in my ear,

“You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”

Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear,

“I am the storm.”

Friendships beyond the bond of work

There are a few very special people I’ve met through work with whom I’ve maintained contact over the years. Some I met multiple jobs ago, and others I met at my last place of employment before I retired. Although it’s not unusual to have a variety of work friends while being employed under the same roof, continuing the relationships after the commonality of work is over can be difficult. Often you discover that work was the glue. Once the glue is gone, it is easy for the bonds to separate and disappear.

The workplace friends who are still in my life are there because work was the catalyst, not the glue.

One of these friends and I had been trying to arrange a get together for a while. She still works so doesn’t have the same flexibility as I do. Finally, we were able to arrange a time and date that worked for us both. It wasn’t until we met that day that she mentioned that it was her birthday.

This is a woman with lots of friends. She also has family close by. But, she chose to spend part of her birthday with me. How nice is that?

Overlooking Balboa Park, from the top of the California Tower
Overlooking Balboa Park, from the top of the California Tower

We chose to meet in one of our city’s most beautiful parks, on what turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. A perfect place and perfect weather in which to stroll, chat, laugh, observe, confide, and just be.

We rendezvoused at about 9 a.m. and we didn’t say good-bye until around 2 p.m. We spent the day enjoying each other’s company as we wondered around the park, visited a few museums, and had a lovely lunch on an outdoor patio. Our conversation easily flowed from one subject to another and we both mentioned how nice it was to spend the day without a schedule or an agenda. Other than encouraging her to retire at the first opportunity, very little of our conversation was about work.  It was a perfect day with a dear friend.

Happy birthday, my friend!
Happy birthday, my friend!

I am lucky that I still live in the community where I grew up and spent a majority of my working life because, like many people, I find it harder to make new friends as I get older. Children naturally gravitate to each other, school often brings kindred spirits together, and most working environments encourage engagement among colleagues. Now that I am retired, it can be difficult to build a new connection beyond superficial interactions. My blogger friend, Liesbet, recently wrote about the difficulties of making friends while living a less anchored lifestyle. If I were to move and start all over, I’m not sure how well I would do.

Fortunately, at least for now, I don’t need to worry.  I just need to get more of my friends to retire so we can get together during the middle of the week.

And not talk about work.

GratiTuesday: The blogging community

When I first started my blog almost three years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond having an excuse to write now and then. At the time, I was approaching my retirement and I thought blogging would be a good way to work through the uncertainties I was feeling.

What I didn’t expect was that my blog would become an entrée into a community of interesting, generous, and inspiring fellow bloggers. As I got more and more comfortable with the care and feeding of my blog, I started to meet other bloggers who were on similar journeys. That led me to find still others who, although they might have been on different paths, had interesting stories to tell.

In many ways, I feel as if I can call many of the bloggers I follow – and who follow me – friends. Through our posts and our comments, we celebrate positive events, support each other through challenges, and share simple bits and pieces of our lives. If a blogger I’ve been following stops posting – either unexpectedly or with prior notice – I often feel as if I’ve lost a friend.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet face-to-face with several bloggers I follow. Each time, the transition from blog persona to actual person was easy and the conversation comfortable. The get-togethers have felt like meet ups with friends… because that’s what they were.

My most recent face-to-face meeting was with Joanne of My Life Lived Full. Several months ago, when my husband and I started to plan our road trip back east, I reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in getting together while we were in Toronto. Fortunately, she was and she generously arranged her day so we could meet for lunch.

Joanne meetup

Just as I expected, Joanne was as nice (she is Canadian, after all) and interesting in person as she is on her blog. We talked about her family (which I already felt like I had met), our travels, and a whole host of other topics. After a couple of hours of easy conversation, I was sorry when it was time to go.

I am so grateful for the community of bloggers that I have become a part of. I had no idea when I started my blog that it would provide me not only an opportunity to write, but also the chance to meet new friends from all over the world.

Opening our minds to skepticism

I am rerunning a few of my earlier posts over the next few weeks. This one, about critical thinking skills, was from February, 2014. I thought it was especially relevant during the current U.S. election cycle.

All too often, we read stories about people who are duped by scammers. Sadly, the victim is often elderly and, tragically, large sums of money – money that they can’t afford to lose – are frequently involved.

As my late father’s physical and mental health started to decline, I worried about him falling for the various come-ons he received in the mail and on the phone. He had a good, analytical mind when he was younger, but I could tell that his aging brain was becoming less and less able to discern fact from fiction. Fortunately, I was able to protect his bank accounts and credit card before anything happened so he and his finances were safe.

Scams_ComputerScammers continue to devise more sophisticated and devious ways to separate people from their money, but there are still plenty of victims responding to notices of large lottery wins, promised riches from Nigerian princes, and a variety of phony phishing emails. My innate skepticism will help protect me from falling for these scams now, but I worry that when I am much older, will I still be able to avoid being taken advantage of?

The same critical thinking skills that make me disregard offers that are “too good to be true” lead me to question much of what I read on the Internet and in social media. I can always count on a handful of “friends” posting items on Facebook or forwarding me emails (along with protestations of outrage) with a story sent to them by some equally outraged person. Most don’t pass my “smell test” and, after a quick search on various fact-checking sites, the stories turn out to be just that, stories.

I don’t think these people are stupid or especially gullible but when they read something that fits very neatly into their political or ideological mindset, they tend not to question its authenticity. This is how hate, lies, and rumors are spread; one unquestioned falsehood at a time.

We live in a society of people who self-select their news. If one source’s slant doesn’t lean in the right direction, simply choose another that does. We also tend to socialize, and even live in communities, with like-minded people. That way we don’t have to question our beliefs or, god forbid, alter them in any way. I guess this makes us feel  comfortable in our convictions, but does it make us better citizens? Does listening to only one side of a story before deciding on its merits support our intellectual integrity? I think most would agree that it does not (although we still do it because, really, it’s others who need to open their minds, not us… right?).

Non-critical thinking makes us more vulnerable to scammers. If we trust a source so completely that we never question its accuracy, why would we question the authenticity of an “exclusive offer” from the same source (or one of its advertisers)? Even better if the offer is also couched in language that supports our biases. If we are distrustful of something or someone, are we not more likely to respond to something that reinforces our  suspicion?

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”  - Mark Twain
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” – Mark Twain

Less incendiary, but maybe in some ways worse, are the “innocent” but untrue items that are re-posted virally. If the poster had done some quick research or applied simple logic, they would have realized that the story doesn’t make any sense. In this category are those emails/posts that promise riches/good luck if you continue the chain (and usually include dire warnings if you don’t), and urban legends like entering your ATM PIN backwards will summon help. Although new myths are being created all the time, many have been around for years and are repackaged and posted over and over again.

When we get in the habit of using magical thinking in place of critical thinking, we make ourselves more vulnerable to hoaxes and fraud. Best case, we just irritate our friends and end up looking stupid, but worst case, we open ourselves up to scammers and thieves.

Recent studies have shown that changes in the brain as we age make the elderly more trusting. The negative “gut feelings” a younger person might experience aren’t felt as strongly by an older person. For this reason, we must be alert when caring for an older adult to protect them from unscrupulous individuals and businesses.

Fortunately, there are things we can do as we age so we aren’t as likely to become victims. We can actually practice our critical thinking skills, learn to be more analytical, and train our brains to question when something just doesn’t ring true.

The enemy of scammers and hoaxers is common sense, questioning, and research.

Be their barricade, not their bridge.

GratiTuesday: The ripple effect of simple acts of kindness

In my last GratiTuesday post, I wrote about my first grade teacher and how a group of her former students had honored her at a luncheon. We all had fond memories of having her as our teacher and were grateful to have the opportunity to thank her in person so many years later.

There’s actually a little more to the story that I’d like to share. It is a detail that taught me – in two very important ways – how simple actions can still have a profound effect many years later.

Soon after my mother passed away in 2000—when I was still rocking from my grief and loss—I came home to find the message light blinking on my answering machine. The call had been from my first grade teacher, Miss Miller, who I hadn’t seen since elementary school. She said that she had read my mother’s obituary and wanted to let me know how sorry she was… then she shared a story.

Letters1

Miss Miller told me about a letter my mother had written to her almost 40 years prior, just after I had completed the school year in her class. In the letter, my mother said what an inspiring teacher Miss Miller was and that the positive experience I had taught me that learning could be both fun and gratifying.

In Miss Miller’s message to me, she shared how much the letter meant to her. When she received it, she was new to teaching and my mother’s kind words gave her much-needed acknowledgement and encouragement.  She said the she had kept the letter and re-read it many times over the years. After saying good-bye, she hung up without leaving her contact information or any hint of how I could return her call.

If you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved, you may know how much it can mean to hear stories about how they made a difference in someone’s life. More than all the well-meaning “I’m sorry for your loss” and “Please let me know if I can help in any way,” these personal stories help to ease the sorrow and keep the memory of your loved-one alive.

Since it was pre-Google when Miss Miller left her phone message, I was unable to locate her. The phone book didn’t have a listing for her and my former elementary school wasn’t any help. I wanted so badly to let her know how much her message meant to me but I was at an impasse in my search.

So, that is a big reason why—over 50 years after being her student and 15 years after her phone message—when I found out that not only was Miss Miller alive and well, but that a classmate was still in contact with her, I jumped at the chance to re-connect. I finally had the opportunity to tell her how much I appreciated her phone message and how grateful I was that she took the time to make the call. It was a thank you I thought I would never be able to deliver, and I admit there were a few tears when I did.

My gratitude to Miss Miller goes beyond her being a great first grade teacher, it extends to two important lessons she taught me years later by making one simple phone call:

  • Never miss an opportunity to write a letter of appreciation or encouragement. Your kind words will mean so much to the receiver and can lift them up well beyond the first reading. An email will do in a pinch, but nothing has the impact of a hand-written note.
  • When someone passes away, if you have a positive story or remembrance about them, share it with their loved-ones. Tell them how the person made a difference; share a funny story; express your admiration. Sharing how that person impacted your life—and the positive outcome it had—will help to buoy them in their grief.

Thank you Miss Miller. Lessons learned.

The girl I never knew

scan0009Today is (was?) my mother’s birthday. She passed away back in 2000, after having a series of strokes, but seldom a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Sometimes it’s a memory of a conversation we had, or a place we visited, or a question that I would like to ask her. Each time I write a blog post, I wish I could rely on her excellent writing and editing skills to proofread my words before I hit “publish.”

My mother and I were close, but we weren’t best friends. I depended on her for love, emotional support, good advice (even if I didn’t take it all the time), and help with my homework. She taught me to work hard, revere nature, nurture a positive outlook, and not to take myself too seriously. We didn’t share all of our secrets or spend hours talking on the phone. I loved her very much and I know she loved me but our roles were fairly well defined.

Now that she is gone, I am often struck by how little I know about her life before I was born. I have a lot of tangible memories of my mother: many of her favorite recipes, magazine articles she wrote, and some beloved tchotchkes. I also have a lot of photos of her; what I don’t have is the comfort that I really knew the women in those photos. I love hearing stories from relatives who grew up with her and I treasure the diaries that both she and my father kept in their twenties and thirties. But, looking back, I wish I had asked her more questions about her childhood, her teenage years, and when she was a young woman – before and after she met my father.

I know that her mother died just days after my mother was born, but I don’t know how the loss might have shaped her as she grew up. I know where and how my parents met, but I don’t know what she thought about when they decided to get married after just three months of knowing each other – and just a few weeks before my father was shipped off to Europe for his Army service during WWII.

scan0003I think many of today’s mother/daughter relationships are different. Many of my friends who have kids talk about how close they are and they seem to be more open with them about their past. Some mothers and daughters share clothes and Facebook updates. A few discuss their sexual histories and past drug use. One friend even shares Botox appointments with her adult daughter.

If I had a daughter, I’m not sure where along the closeness spectrum we would sit, but I’d like to think it would be somewhere in the middle. I understand the desire to be “best friends,” but I also appreciate the need to maintain a certain amount of separation. Although I wish I had asked more about my mother’s past, I appreciate that she had pieces of her life that she wanted to keep private. Just as her past shaped her, mine has shaped me, and my relationship with my mother is one of the parts of who I am that I most cherish.

**

Mom and Me1Although I don’t remember many of my dreams, every once in a while I have a vivid one about my mother. It is usually the same: we are sitting together on the sofa in my parents’ living room chatting about this and that and enjoying each other’s company. Everything seems completely normal when suddenly I realize it is just a dream. When that happens, I reach over and hug her tightly to me, knowing she won’t be there when I wake up.

I hope I have that dream again tonight.