debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)
I have been thinking a lot about the concept of growing old gracefully. I had a conversation with my grandmother recently that precipitated this. We were talking about how hard things have been for my dad and his siblings since my uncle died. Grandma Snazzy (yes, we call her that) mentioned that she doesn't have any friends. All her siblings and most of her friends have died. I mentioned that one can always make new friends, and she said that at her age (she's in her late 80s), they die, too. In a way, I get this. But isn't that life? Everyone does die, sooner or later.

Grandma Snazzy has generally been a great example of the idea of growing old gracefully. When I was a child, she and my grandfather took trips around the world. They visited China, Yugoslavia, and Peru, among many others, on inexpensive package tours. Grandma, who was a shoe saleswoman at The Broadway, retired when I was in my early teens. She then devoted herself to volunteer work and gardening. She was always busy - busier than my high school senior self, even though I was singing in three choirs and participating in Mock Trial. Now, however, she has been slowed down by her broken hips, and she's idle and unhappy.

My Granny (great-grandmother), on the other hand, bloomed almost to the very end of her life. She died just before her hundredth birthday. Grandpa Pumpkinhead (other side of the family, but yes, we call him that) died two years before I was born. The year that I was born, my Granny, who was already 80, traveled to Egypt. She later went to Ireland and the Holy Land, among other places. Back in the U.S., she signed up for Bible study classes at her parish church and History classes at her local community college. After she broke her hip a few times, Granny was forced to live in a residential care facility, but she was still the life of the party. She attended daily Mass. She won awards for her creative Halloween costumes. She also won money at bingo and taught herself to read Italian (I should mention that she was not on the Italian side of my family).

The interesting thing, to me, is that my Granny was a widow, while
Grandma Snazzy is not. According to my dad and uncles, Granny was quite subdued when Grandpa Pumpkinhead was alive, and became more active as a widow. I wonder if this is part of what is holding Grandma Snazzy back, and if so, I find it rather sad. I think, though, there are other factors. Grandma Snazzy enjoys being active, but she's not the most social person in the world. She's also in a private home in a gated community miles from real public transportation. Still, both of them give a person a lot to think about. What is growing old gracefully? Does it help or hurt to be a widow? What does one do when one finds one's friends and family dying, one by one?

Any and all ideas on this topic are welcome.
debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)
This post is mostly me musing on myself, but I'm making it public because people might have things to add.

While making dinner tonight, I found myself thinking back on a disturbing episode involving unwanted physical contact that happened a few years ago. I'm still very disturbed and deeply ashamed of this episode, and I did a little thinking about why. After all, I was raised on the philosophy of "my body is my own." Why hasn't that translated into a stronger sense of my own personal boundaries, and more ability to stand up for myself?

I think maybe it's not enough to teach kids that they can say no or talk to a trusted grown-up. I think a kid also needs a sense of his or her own body as a worthy object of protection. I developed, somehow, a deep dread of appearing selfish and making demands on others, at a very young age. I also developed a lot of shame about my body, and a feeling that the mind was the worthier part. I could point to a lot of reasons for this, but most likely it was a combination of all of them, plus some that I haven't thought of. I have been lucky to have, in [ profile] papertigers, someone who helps me to understand that I am allowed to feel angry and ashamed.

It also makes me think of a parallel incident, when I was in Mauritania. In this situation, a young boy of between ten and thirteen years old hit me on the back with a stick while I was walking down the street. Mauritanians find this sort of thing tremendously funny. I found it deeply shaming. When I told one of my friends about the incident, she told me that of course I felt ashamed, that racially-motivated violence in general is meant to keep people down by making them feel ashamed. I'm not sure that I agree with her whole analysis of the situation, but I know that it gave me a new perspective, not just on my life, but on my own society. That perspective has been really important because it has allowed me to see how people work, consciously and unconsciously, to control each other and keep those they see as their inferiors down. It's given me insight into myself and my own less-than-beautiful motives, too.

Yet all the insight in the world can't keep me from feeling somehow responsible for being hurt. Why is that? I wish that one could conquer pain by understanding the reasons for it, but it takes more than that.


Oct. 23rd, 2007 01:23 pm
debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)
Sorry, everyone - this is too important to me personally for a cut.

In July of 2002, I found myself walking, at the break of dawn, with two large bags and a medium-sized puppy, down the sand road in Djeol. I was on my way to Kaedi, thence to Nouakchott, thence to Paris and Los Angeles for the baptism of my godchildren. The journey was going to take me about a week.

I'm not good at handling material objects. I drop them. So I was struggling down the road, the puppy (Rufus Sy, may his furry little memory be eternal) foremost in my mind, when an old, old man came out of one of the nearby compounds. This kind man took one look at me and said, "I'm going to help you." He unceremoniously took the largest bag and placed it on his head, while I, mortified, stammered my thanks. He carried my bag all the way down to the "taxi brousse" at the entrance to the village. I've never been so grateful for anything in my life (quite aside from the kindness, he wasn't treating me like a curiousity or a pet, and it was nice to be with someone who saw me as a person), and I hope he gets his eternal reward.

This Sunday, the Gospel reading was the parable known as "Dives and Lazarus." I found myself thinking of the parable differently this week than I have thought of it previously, which led to a related thought, which in turn relates to the story above. I've long had a fascination with this story, due in part to a beautiful piece of the Catholic funeral service, where they mention "Lazarus, who once was poor." There seems to be so much of both joy and pathos in that statement; Lazarus, who once was poor, and now rests on Abraham's bosom. Dives and Lazarus is about not ignoring the misery of the people around us. This week, it occurred to me that this wasn't just about seeing the poor around me; it was also about seeing my privilege. Right now, I am cash poor - quite cash poor, really. But... I've been poorer, and I've seen many people who are poorer still. I get so caught up in the day-to-day of my life, and in my own difficulties over money, that I sometimes forget that I have a large collection of CDs, DVDs, and books, two cats, a nice apartment, running water, people who will feed me if I can't buy food, a car, etc. I'm really in the position of Dives. Blindness to my many layers of privilege causes me sometimes to ignore Lazarus. This kind of cruelty (ignoring Lazarus is cruel) is not acceptable to me.

Dives and Lazarus also reminds me of the Widow's Mite, another parable which I believe ([ profile] seraphimsigrist, can you confirm?) we hear during the Lenten Triodion (Lenten season, which includes Lent and some weeks before). The message of that parable is that giving out of your poverty is more blessed than throwing money at a problem out of a position of riches. And again, thinking in a slightly less literal way about this leads me to the man who helped me carry my bags through Djeol. How blessed was this old Muslim man! Out of his age and weakness, he could see the trouble of someone relatively young and strong, and gave help out of his relative poverty. These are the kinds of small, significant gestures that I believe have the greatest impact on people's lives.

So, my task, I guess, is to think of more ways in which, by my attitudes and actions, I am not doing all I can for those around me - and then to start doing something about it.


debboamerik: black-and-white cat (Default)

January 2011

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