Archive for the ‘Falling Apart at the Seams’ Category

If you could be given the option to never sleep and also never be tired, would you take it if it meant you’d also never dream again?”

First, I must apologize for skipping yesterday.  I would love to be able to write that it was Russian Christmas and I was off celebrating, but the truth is, I was down with flu.  Apparently it’s true that this flu season is so bad, you can still get flu even if you’ve had the shot.  (It was still Russian Christmas.)

Now, to our muttons.  It’s tempting to say “Yes” to the prompt.  I mean, 24 hours in which to get it all done!  Imagine what you could do with the eight extra hours!  Not to mention that the idea of never dreaming again has enormous appeal, considering that the only dreams I ever have are nightmares.  My last nice dream was over 20 years ago.

But all things considered…no, I don’t think I would take it.  For one thing, I really doubt that I would be any more productive in 24 hours than I already am in 16; I waste enough time as it is.  (Facebook, anyone??)  And where would the pleasure of a really rainy night be, if I couldn’t spend it lying in bed, listening to the whisper of rain all around me until I fell asleep?  Not to mention the delicious feel of snuggling down under a quilt and finding just the right spot to burrow in…

Okay, I’m a sleep hedonist, I admit it.  But the truth is that we have been designed to need rest.  I’m married to someone who seriously thinks that rest is sinful – because it’s non-productive – so he pushes and pushes himself until evening, when he collapses into his easy chair and passes out.  Then, two hours later, he wakes up and goes to bed.  The sad part is, for all his “productivity,” it’s all there waiting for him the next day.  That’s the nature of work.  It is never done.  Just think of laundry.

And maybe that’s the difference between us.  Because I do the laundry, I’ve come to realize that work really is never done, and that in order to have any kind of life, you have to drag yourself away from it, you have to take your rest.  There has to be a time in your day when you put your feet up and read, or work a puzzle, or focus on doing something creative – restorative – regenerative.  Otherwise, what’s the point in calling yourself a human being?  You’re nothing more than a machine.

And nothing gets the point across more immediately than the need to sleep.

Which, now that’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve been up for an hour, I’m going back to.  Sleep tight!

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“Which daily tasks take up the most of your energy?”

It’s a funny thing about getting older.  You never realize it when you are young, but when old people talk about “not having their get-up-and-go,” they’re actually talking about losing energy.  Now that I am in my sixties, I look back on the things I did when I was in my forties – full-time job, night classes, plus keeping house for a husband and two teenagers – and I shake my head:  How on earth did I do all that?!  Nowadays it takes me all morning to do chores that used to take an hour.  And the one that wipes me out the most is…making beds.

When I was young, I was taught to make my bed as soon as I got out of it, and I did this for years.  It was one less chore to clutter up my mind, and the bedroom always looks tidier and more serene with a bed that’s been made up.  Then I began married life in Germany, where you Just Don’t make your bed before airing it out thoroughly.  And I mean “thoroughly”:  People sleep beneath duvets, those puffy feather-filled comforters that are always covered in a big envelope, and first thing in the morning, the window is opened and the duvets and pillows are hung out for at least an hour.

(A funny aside here:  When my daughter was a child, I took her to Saturday school to learn German.  One of the mothers had just returned from a two-year sabbatical in Germany, and couldn’t stop talking about how grateful she was to be back in the States.  Since I was aching with homesickness – no, I’m not German, but the whole way of life had really clicked with me – I couldn’t imagine why she’d be grateful to be here.  Her answer:  “Those women and their featherbeds!  Every morning, at punkt seven o’clock, every window in Stuttgart would bang open, and out would come the featherbeds.  You could set your clock by the way those women hung out their featherbeds!”  Oh-kay.)

Well…it’s a habit that has stuck with me (one of many).  I won’t say I’m so fanatic as to get my bedding out the window by seven o’clock – for one thing, in the winter in New England the sun doesn’t rise until seven-thirty at the earliest, and I like it to be fully up before I put things out in the frost, or dew, depending on the season – but every morning by nine the latest, I drag the featherbeds off my husband’s and my bed and get them out for at least an hour, and usually, until the afternoon.  I used to yank them off and whisk them out the window.  These days, I drag them off and carry them through the hall and kitchen (we have a one-story house) and hang them off the back porch.  Then I put the pillows next to an open window so they can air, too.

By the time that’s done, I need to sit down and restock my energy.  I tell myself that this is because I’m so short, and lugging those featherbeds all through the house, holding them up so that they don’t drag on the floor (yes, I fold them in my arms – that’s how short I am), is bound to take the stuffing out of me.  But the truth is – I’m getting old.  And, as the saying goes, “My get-up-and-go has got up and gone.”

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Like ICare

I’m finally beginning to understand why old people get so fixated on the past:  They have no idea what people are talking about in the present.

Recently I got an e-mail (Mother:  “What’s an e-mail?”) from Consumer Reports, wanting to know about my cell-phone service.  I felt like an idiot answering it; they had all kinds of questions about my SmartPhone and my IPhone and my IPad and my Tablet (I know what Tablets are – Moses came down from Mount Sinai with them.  And the newspaper for the Brooklyn Diocese was named The Tablet).  Really, what is an IPhone or an IPad?!  What’s wrong with just using a cell phone and a laptop!?

My husband and I hear ads on television all the time for these things, along with MP3 players and BlueTooth Capability, and look at each other in bewilderment – and what the heck is a Blue Ray?  Is it any relation to a stingray?  I’m sure that if we still had a Younger-Generation Person living in the house, they’d be only too happy to explain these things to us (eye-rolls included gratis), but the offspring are long gone, and when we do see them – mostly him, she living a thousand miles away – we have more important things to talk about than IShouldn’tUseThatLanguage.

Listen, I don’t even like cell phones.  I have one in case of emergencies, so that if I get stuck on my way to one of my two churches – one is forty miles away, one is fifty miles away – I can call for help.  (Is there an app called OHelp?  What’s an app?)  But I see far too many people glued to their cell phones like it was an umbilical cord or something – and the most pathetic ones of all are the young mothers who are out walking with their little children, gabbing away on their phones, oblivious to the little person right next to them.  And the most painful one was the father and son in a restaurant, the son looking totally miserable while his father gassed on the cell phone, like anybody on a telephone could be more important than the person in front of you.

Actually, if it comes to that – I’m not all that crazy about telephones, either.  Again, they’re good for emergencies, which is why I have one.  And speaking of telephones, when is Congress going to break up Wal-Mart the way they broke up Bell Telephone?!  Wal-Mart on a bad day is a far worse monopoly than Ma Bell ever was.

The world makes less and less sense to me, so I guess that means I’m officially Old.  And to prove it, there are days when I wake up with three men in my bed:  Will Power gets me out of bed despite Arthur Itis and Charley Horse.  But the first man I see in the morning is John, and the man I go to bed with is Ben Gay.  Sorry, I had to find a way to work that oldie in; it has become embarrassingly relevant in recent years.

But, as I’m always telling people – getting old is better than the alternative.  Meanwhile, I don’t suppose there’s an app for IAche??

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This has not been an easy week for me.  In another post, I mentioned that we are having some major renovations done to our house, both badly needed:  a new roof (think of the sound of nails being pounded overhead, all day long), and a new bathroom, which will be lovely when finished, but is most disconcerting just at present:  Where do we keep our toothbrushes? where did we put the toothpaste? where’s the shaving tackle? where’s that box of Unmentionable Personal-Care Products?  You get the idea.  Not to mention that during the day, the toilet is disconnected so that the contractor can work on the walls.  My hairdresser wanted to know if we were getting a whirlpool tub, and I had to say no, we aren’t; we’re pretty minimalist people.  But the concern with this project was that the caulking kept pulling away from the old tub, and we were concerned that there was water damage to the walls; so we really needed to have the whole  room redone.  Thankfully, no water damage, and the new bathtub has a raised lip that precludes the necessity of caulking.  A clever solution to a common problem; wish we’d known about it years ago.

And on top of all this chaos – our favorite radio station has signed off the air.  As of 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, WBACH has disconnected its Southern Maine transmitter; its frequency was sold at a bankruptcy auction to a group that has replaced classical programming with yet more rock ‘n’ roll, as if, you know, the cultural scene of southern Maine is going to fall apart if we don’t have one more venue for angry screaming.  All is not quite lost, as we can still access programming on our computer (and thank goodness for that – I can still remember the emptiness when New York’s WNCN went off the air the first time, in 1974), but our computer is in the office, and the office is nowhere near the living room.  We’re looking into getting a wireless router (or something along those lines) that will allow us to pick up the signal off the computer.

In light of the events of this past week – I refer, of course, to Libya – these concerns seem almost insultingly trivial.  And there are people out there, people whom I love and care about deeply, who are suffering real tragedies and crises, so if your reaction is, “You’re in mourning over a classical-music station?!  Get real!” that’s understandable.  But I’m not sure the two are entirely unconnected.

Just this past week, I wrote about classical music under the topic of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and I noted that classical music’s reputation began to take a hit when “searching-for-the-lost-chord” compositions came into vogue.  Thinking about it further, I’m not entirely sure that that’s the actual cause; on another level, I think it might (also) have something to do with an American trait that suspects anything Intellectual.  When I was growing up – and certainly when my parents were growing up – classical music was firmly associated with the College Crowd.  In those years, college was only for the wealthy, or for people who were going into High Finance; they came out of college smoking pipes, if male, or wearing twinsets and pearls, if female, voting Republican and listening to classical music.  Then came the 1960s, and since then, the College Crowd seems to wear denim and eschew bathing and vote Democrat.  Listening to classical music is still associated with Rich People, and as any student with loans up the wazoo can tell you, college students are by and large not Rich.  (Nor are they educated to the standards formerly set by colleges, but that’s another story.)

A college education used to include mandatory music-appreciation courses, and the music on offer was exclusively classical.  That’s no longer the case – even where music appreciation is offered (as an elective), the music studied is only marginally classical – so lovers of classical music continue to dwindle.  And so does intellectual life, the life of the mind – dare I say, the life of the soul?  My point, if there is one, is that people who like classical music not only are suspected of being slightly weird, but have always been suspected of being – well, not like the rest of mankind, anyway.  Do they even know what hard work is?  (Only someone who has never tried to master a musical instrument can ask this question with a straight face.)  What kind of a brain actually likes that stuff?!  What does any of it have to do with Real Life, you know, that place where people get their fingernails filthy with embedded grime and their hands are cracked and bleeding from hard work?

I first encountered the term “philistine” when WNCN went off the air and was replaced by a rock station.  It seems to be a term describing anti-intellectualism, a dumbing-down of the prevalent culture to some level of lowest-common-denominator, a lack of appreciation for making the effort to become more than one step above Animal.  Think about that, an animal’s purely visceral reaction to what goes on around it.  Eat or be eaten.

Then think of the images out of Libya.

Then ask yourself what was refined about anything you saw in the news.

Then tell me that the loss of a classical-music radio station – of one more level of refinement – of being human – of being more than Animal – is trivial.

This week, the Philistines triumphed.

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Some time ago, my husband and I came to the realization that we needed to undertake two fairly extensive home-improvement projects as soon as possible:  We needed a new roof, and we needed to have our bathroom professionally overhauled – periodic re-caulking around the bathtub was getting out of hand.  The roofing job began last week; the bathroom retro-fit is taking place as I type, and it’s already apparent on both fronts that it was TIME TO GET THEM DONE.  The roof would not have lasted out this winter, and the wiring that we found when the walls were ripped out of the bathroom – well, let’s just say that building codes were very different sixty years ago.

What it all amounts to is that our regular schedule is, shall we say, “discombobulated,” as we try to stay out of the way of the roofers, plumbers, plasterers, and electricians.  In short – I stay on the porch with my cross stitch, and my husband stays in the office, online.  It’s been wonderful for my gigantic cross-stitch project; not so wonderful for catching up with e-mails, or blogging.

So I will blog as I can, and in the meantime, here’s today’s prompt from NaBloPoMo:  “Which sense is more important to you: vision or hearing?:

Oh, boy, I can hear my aunt laughing snidely from the other side of the grave.  We had this “conversation,” if you can call debate a conversation, when I was a teenager, and rashly asserted that if I had to choose, I’d choose hearing over sight.  Everybody in the family jumped down my throat on that one, most emphatically my mother’s sister, the family doyenne – if Aunt Mary didn’t approve of something, or didn’t like something, or stopped buying something or started buying something, whatever it was became gospel.  In-laws could find themselves frozen out in the cold for all eternity, with one dismissive glance from this particular aunt.

This is what I thoughtlessly challenged with my assertion on the subject of the importance of being able to hear.  Here’s the thing, though:  I’m a musician.  Not a professional musician, just someone who has always related to her world in terms of sound (and it’s this particular aunt who told me that I could sing before I could talk, incidentally).  I was in my fifties before I realized that not everybody can produce a melody with complete accuracy.  I cook, believe it or not, based on the sound of the cooking; I know when something has come to a boil, when it’s time to add more water, on the basis of the sounds emanating from the stove.  And my timer (another device based on sound) is my best friend.

I am also aware that blind people have a sharper sense of hearing that allows them to “see” with their ears, so my assertion wasn’t as off the wall as it sounds.  Nevertheless, my aunt never let me forget it; so help me Hannah, she was reminding me of that discussion two weeks before she died.  And I meekly reversed my assertion:  “Yes, Aunt Mary, you were right, seeing is more important than hearing.”  For most people, anyway.  What the heck, she was old, and she needed to be right.

Thing is – sight has become more important to me as I’ve grown older.  Not more important than hearing, but at least as important, as I’ve had to make my way around a part of the world that is absolutely auto-dependent.  How can you do anything if you can’t drive, and how can you drive if you can’t see?  That’s my current dilemma.  And there’s another aspect that I could never in a million years have foreseen when I was a teenager:  I “hear” with my eyes, too.  That is – I can sight-read music, look at it and know what all those little dots on those little lines mean in terms of reproducing a  sound with my throat.  I can look at a piece of music and, never having heard the melody before, sing right along with my choir without missing a beat.  I could even sing in harmony, if I still had the vocal range I had fifteen years ago.

So I take care of my eyes.  Go for regular vision checkups, wear those glasses that change color in sunlight, try to remember to take vitamins that enhance vision (I’m terrible at taking Pills regularly).  I cherish my ability to read, to work at the computer, to run my errands by car (bicycle would be even better, if New Hampshire ever gets on board with the notion of bike lanes).

But it all goes better with Bach.

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Are there any candies that you just can’t stomach?”

Pretty much all of them, actually.  Nobody realizes this when they’re young, but when older people talk about not being able to eat certain foods, there’s a reason for that:  Those foods cause, shall we say, “digestive unpleasantness.”  There are so many varieties of Digestive Unpleasantness that it doesn’t pay to go into details, and in any case, who on earth wants to hear about that?!  I don’t, and I live with it.

I have to be careful with candy.  One ounce of dark chocolate a day – the current recommendation of the chocolate lobby health community – is playing with fire for me.  I can have things with chocolate chips in them, as long as it isn’t an Eastern Orthodox fasting period like the seven weeks before Pascha/Easter, or the six weeks before Nativity/Christmas, since most chocolate chips are made from milk chocolate.  White chocolate, about which I rhapsodized a couple of posts ago, is a thing of the past.   😦

Hence the title of today’s post.  Friends who read my blog will remember the medical horrors  I went through about six years ago.  It has since been brought to my attention that I had what is known as a “close call” – I guess I really did come that close to dying – and since that unforgettable time, the expression “Eat dessert first” has come to my attention.

It’s meant to be a witty way of getting people to realize that there’s more to life than obsessing over one’s Perfectly Fit Condition, and any Orthodox priest worth his salt will tell you that it doesn’t matter how careful you are with your health – eventually you die, so you should devote considerably more attention to your spiritual health than to your physical health.  Whatever form that takes for you is a matter of personal circumstance, but to obsess over health is pointless; I was in pretty good shape when I went for a routine hysterectomy that turned out to be anything but routine.

And, as happens with most people who have had a close call, I changed some of my priorities.  I spend more time keeping in touch with family and friends, especially family.  (As I once told an investigator when I was applying for a job in federal law enforcement, “Polaks don’t have friends.  We have Relatives.”  He was Polish himself, so he burst out laughing.)  I spend much more time on my hobbies (reading and cross-stitching), and if my housework isn’t done by 10:00 a.m. – oh well.  It’ll still be there tomorrow.  I have a structure for spending an hour or so a day with God, and I make that a priority – it doesn’t always work out, but having that structure nags me to remember what’s really important here.

And while I don’t actually eat dessert first, I do eat dessert (carefully), something that, like too many American women, I used to avoid assiduously:  Gotta keep my Girlish Figure, y’know.  Let me tell you something:  Girlish Figures are vastly overrated.  Once you have children, you deserve a womanly figure.  You don’t have to get fat, but if your shape takes on a few more curves, you should wear them proudly; you came by them honestly.

And while you shouldn’t go overboard with sweets, I am deadly serious about this:  Do not avoid the sweet things in life.  If you’re invited to coffee, or afternoon tea, have the sweet things that go along with it.  Have Strawberries and Peaches and Cream for breakfast (if you combine it with rice and cottage cheese, you actually have a well-balanced meal.  If you use nonfat cottage cheese, you’ve mitigated the effects of the heavy cream.  It’s a great breakfast).  Eat dessert.

Because the day is coming when you wake up one day in your sixties and realize:  You can’t eat dessert anymore.  Sweet things don’t agree with you anymore.  But if you enjoyed them regularly in the past, you won’t feel regret; you’ll be grateful that you realized in time the importance of Eating Dessert First.

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For nearly twenty years now, I have kept track of my life with one of those time-management systems (Franklin-Covey, to be exact).  I like being able to track how I spent my days, and there are other components to this system, such as tracking money, auto servicing, and projects, that I haven’t found anywhere else.  I like, too, that it’s a two-page-per-day system; I can keep track of appointments and Things to Do on one page, and on the facing page, make notes about those appointments, or about the events of my life.  (I could wish that the Appointment section were less detailed – I can think of other things to put in that space – but that’s just me.)

One of the lesser benefits of this particular system is that each day has a quote at the top of the Notes page.  I say “lesser” because sometimes, those quotes are in direct opposition to my own philosophy of life, and I find myself composing tirades to someone who will never read them, clearly a waste of time.  Today’s quote, however, is the inspiration for today’s post:

“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them; I shall use my time.” — Jack London

I’m not actually a fan of Jack London’s Survival-of-the-Fittest writings, but this really struck a chord with me.  People who have known me awhile will remember the horrors of my 2006 surgery, about which I will only say, I have not known a day without pain since that time.  (There are blog posts related to it, beginning in August 2006, if you’re curious.)  What sticks with me from that time, though, is the memory of one of the visiting nurses, who, having reviewed my treatment plan, snarkily added, “And were we considering some Lifestyle Changes?”

Now…I’m fat.  I know it.  I’ve been fighting it since before I should have been fighting it, thanks largely to a mother with body-image problems; in my early twenties, I weighed 95 lbs., and she still thought I was fat.  Now I weigh considerably more than that, and there’s no question:  Even by the most generous measurement standards, I’m fat.  I also know that, given the standards of Orthodox eating, it cannot possibly be related to overeating; even if you pig out on vegetables and fruits, how many calories can you possibly be consuming?!  And my own husband, who’s thin as a rail, has had to concede that he doesn’t understand why I am as fat as I am, now that he’s retired and has seen how I eat.

And I’ve gotten The Looks from doctors when I describe Orthodox fasting practices, the ones that say, “Yeah, right, Fatty.”  I’m at the point where I carry an Orthodox pocket calendar and a copy of the fasting guidelines to every medical appointment, and when I whip ’em out, the only possible reaction is the one I get these days:  “Wow, that’s a lotta fasting.”  (It works out to about half a year, give or take a few days.)

So when Nurse Snarky came out with her comment, I made one of the stupidest remarks of my life:  “Don’t even go there.”  Needless to say, the relationship deteriorated from that point on.  Now, though, I know what I should have said:

“Lifestyle changes?!  Oh, yeah, I am so there!  You’re not kidding!  It’s time for some major changes!  And for starters, I’m gonna go back to eating dessert!  Hey, all these years of never having ice cream or a lousy piece of birthday cake have obvioiusly not done me any good at all, so what the heck?!  You only live once, and I’m not gonna live without ice cream anymore!  And exercise?!  Hey, walking a couple miles a day hasn’t done me any good in that regard, either, so you know what?  I’m not gonna waste another second of my valuable time on exercise!  I’m gonna park my butt in my favorite chair and read all the books I’ve been neglecting for exercise, and then I’m gonna stitch my fingers off on all the needlework projects I haven’t been able to get to because of all that stupid walking!  Now, let’s Do It!  Go Lifestyle Changes!”

Not entirely.  I do actually enjoy walking, though not in the current subzero weather (although I understand that the Norwegians say, “There is no bad weather, there is only bad clothing,” in which case, my wardrobe needs a major overhaul).  And dessert was never a part of our diet, anyway.  Not to mention that for at least half the year, ice cream is off limits (no meat, no dairy during fasting periods).

But the point is this.  You can do everything the medical people tell you to do:  eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet, work out religiously, get all the standards checkups and tests, and generally spend your days on various medical appointments.  Or you can decide what’s important for your life, and go out and do it.  And frankly, what’s important for me is not preserving my life at all costs, but living it:  reading those books, working that cross stitch, putting warm woollies on my family’s bodies, and most important of all, maintaining my spiritual life.

This last can, and does, involve long periods of sitting in a car, driving to and from church services; the services are never as long as the total amount of time spent driving.  A doctor would be aghast.  A nurse would think it sheer folly.  But know this:  No matter how much maintenance you put in on your body, eventually it will wear out, and you will die.  The wisest use of your time, therefore, is to spend it on matters eternal, storing up experiences that “neither rust nor moth will consume” (Matthew 6:20), leaving behind a legacy that will follow you into eternity.  In other words:  LIVE.

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…is Change, as the Change Gurus keep reminding us.  You know who they are:  those folks who muck around with our lives, tweaking this and altering that and causing general uproar, all the while assuring us that what they are doing is Normal, because “the only constant in life is Change.”

I keep waiting for someone to state the obvious, that it’s because Change Is the Only Constant in Life that we should dial it back wherever possible.  Think about it:  One day you’re a baby, the next you’re off to school, and a scant twelve years later, you’re old enough to vote, hold a job, drive a car.  Then you get married, and the changes start flying at you:  your own kids, your aging parents, mergers-acquisitions-divestitures at work, your spouse’s altering body (to say nothing of your own), and the next thing you know, you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

And those are just the unavoidable changes.  Then there are the changes you make so that your life runs more smoothly:  A new house, a new community, a different school, maybe a different career.  Some of us find God, others abandon Him.  Some of us change spouses like we change shoes.  (I’m not advocating that last one.)

And then along come the Change Gurus.  You go into work one morning thinking about all the projects you have to get done; you boot up, and say what?!  Everything’s different!  The IT Oafs have been at it again!  And just when you were getting used to the last changes!

Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7.  I-Pods, I-Phones, I-Pads, Kindle Readers, MP-3 Players.  Change is Good!  Why?  Because The Only Constant in Life is Change!

I was just thinking this morning that when I began my own career, I learned to type on a manual typewriter.  You really had to pound those keys, and a typing speed of 60 words per minute guaranteed you a good job.  Electric typewriters were just beginning to revolutionize the office scene, and a company that had a Xerox photocopier was progressive, indeed.  Then came the Selectric Typewriter, with the little ball that you could change for different typefaces — holy cow!  Then the electronic typewriter, then the word processor, and finally, the computer.  Who’d a-thunk that in thirty short years, we’d all be computer geeks?!

My stepgrandmother was born on a farm in Poland.  She never went to school, never learned to read or write.  When she came to this country, she hired out as a farm hand — in those days, New York City still had farms.  She lived to see a man walk on the moon, and a Polish Pope, whom she loved.  (No need to bring up which event was the more important to her!)

All of this came to a head for me when my husband ran into an old acquaintance at the supermarket.  They got to talking about one thing and another, and it developed that the acquaintance was in Human Resources (what a ghastly term) at Tufts University in Boston.  Talking about hiring people, he mentioned that age discrimination is a very real tactic in human-resource management; you don’t like to do it, but the simple fact is that people get to a point where they simply can’t absorb all the changes going on in the business world.  This really hit home with my husband, who retired two years ago:  It’s a shocking thing to realize that after forty or forty-five years of increasing productivity, of altering the person you were to fit in with the Change Gurus’ vision, you are suddenly unemployable because you’ve tapped out your Change Viability.  What’s left in life?!

I belong to a church that resists change for the sake of change.  This is not to say that changes don’t take place, only that there has to be a good reason for changing things up.  The joke goes, “How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb?” and the answer is either, “Change?!” in a horrified tone of voice, or “Change?  What’s that?” in a tone of complete puzzlement.  This is known as Change-Guru Hell.

But it’s a perspective that I wish we could export to the modern world, the notion that Change isn’t always good, that you don’t fix what ain’t broke, that people aren’t just “resources” to be used up and thrown away, but of intrinsic value, whose rate of absorption needs to be respected until they can make a smooth transition to the place where they need to be, in order to advance spiritually.  That is a “change we can live with.”  More, that is a change we must accommodate, since it prepares us for the final and most critical change of all:  The change from temporal to eternal life.

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The wild weather patterns of the past few years continue, and we have been hit with our first major snowstorm — in October.  October, 28-29, to be exact.  Complete with blizzard-like conditions, winds howling between 30 and 60 mph, and, in this part of the world, the inevitable power outtages.

We are blessed, my husband and I, to live on a street called Main Street.  Now, if you saw what constitutes this particular Main Street, you could be forgiven for laughing all the way back to your hometown.  Our town has the “distinction” of being a regular destination for rubes, as in, “You gotta see the night life in X!”  So we regularly get people driving through here, especially in summer, asking us (as we mow the lawn), “Where’s downtown X?”  “Well, buddy, this is it.  Ya see the post office down the street?  And the little circle with the flagpole and the flowers in it?  That’s downtown.”

The other annoying thing about living “downtown” is that there’s a biker bar just up the street, and in the summer, the Thundering Hordes come roaring through on their de-mufflered machines, all day long.  I’m not the only one who wonders why it’s OK for bikers to roar all over New Hampshire, while car drivers can be ticketed for doing the same thing, but I think I’m the only one who supposes that local law enforcement has been instructed not to annoy a major source of revenue.  Bikers bring a lot of money to this rural state.

However, winter or summer, there’s this to be said for living on Main Street:  When the hurricanes or blizzards rage, as both have done this year, and our power goes out, we’re among the first to get it back.  I think it has a lot to do with the fire station that’s just up the street (opposite end from the biker bar).  Even though they have a backup generator, it runs on diesel fuel, and there’s only so much diesel that the City can afford to buy.

So this time, we were without lights and heat for “only” 18 hours.  Last time, during Hurricane Irene, we were without power for ten hours.  But there was a time, not all that long ago, that we were without power for three days, and that was in the middle of winter.  We were very fortunate that our house only got down to 50F; others we knew were at freezing before their power came back on.

Still others we know never felt the cold, and relied on oil lamps for lighting; they use wood stoves.  We used to have one, but found it inefficient, and got rid of it when the pipes failed and smoke began to fill the basement.  I’d consider a pellet stove so that we could at least have heat; but the other factor to consider is the refrigerator.  We began our married life in Europe, so I got into the habit early of buying only what we need for each day, and generally that works well for our needs; but especially if you are expecting a snowstorm, the tendency is to buy ahead, in case you can’t get out for several days, and then when your power goes off, you’re stuck with all those groceries.  Coolers can only hold so much, and last for so long.

Not to mention being incommunicado, which wasn’t as much of a problem when we were newlyweds in Europe and had neither television nor telephone.  We had each other (cue the Kitsch music).    😉    But now we are old, and while we still have each other (thankfully), we also tend to get nervous about being totally out of touch.  After all, a fall at this point in our lives could kill us.

So we are now looking into the other backup plan observed by most of our neighbors:  a generator.  Nearly everyone else on the block has a little portable genny that runs off gasoline.  My husband, son of a fireman as he is, has a horror of flammable liquids around the house.  We also have an alternative source of fuel to tap into:  We heat our house with natural gas, where most of our neighbors use oil or the ol’ reliable wood stove.  So we’ve been looking into a whole-house generator  that can be hooked up to a natural-gas outlet, one that would provide us with power for nearly all our major appliances as well as lights.  Considering what you need to be able to run — furnace, water tank, refrigerator — it hardly seems worthwhile to look at anything less than a whole-house unit.  (We don’t have a huge freezer, not being inclined to deer meat, and I refuse to countenance an air conditioner for the 2-3 weeks we would need it.  This is New Hampshire, for crying out loud.  Fans work fine.)

Whole-house units are not cheap.  But neither is peace of mind.  And at this point in life, peace of mind wins out.

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Between the annual income-tax burden, the beginning and middle of Great Lent (as opposed to the lesser fasts observed by the Orthodox Church), and the final illness of my stepfather, life has been unimaginably hectic.  I didn’t do this much running around when I had teenagers in the house.

So, having gone into a decline on the last Monday of March, only to “rally” in time for his 96th birthday on April 1 — by “rally” I mean that he returned from near-death to a more stable state of vegetation — my stepfather slipped away last night, April 6, before anybody really realized what had happened.  My sister said that he was in exactly the same state as he had been since last Friday, just breathing but not in any sense alive…his breathing slowed…he took one last breath — and was gone.

The hole in my life is a revelation to me, since, after all, the man was my stepfather.  I didn’t even feel this empty when my mother died.  But then, Dad was a unique human being; I’ve never known anybody with as much innate talent as he had, who actually, seriously, thought of himself as Nothing Special.  Of everybody in his family, he was the greatest of them all:  supported everyone after the death of his own father, patched DC-3s together over and over and over during World War II, even flying them on occasions when the flight crew was wounded; ran into a burning plane, again and again, to rescue every man aboard, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star (and never spoke about it till the end of his life, when he was interviewed by my niece’s boyfriend for a school project).  And he married my widowed mother, at a time when a single woman with a child was suspected of being Loose, since anybody could say she was a widow.

He dropped out of high school when he was 16, and spent his life creating tools and the dies for them — nowadays, boys get two-year associate degrees in tool-and-die making, and call themselves mechanical engineers.  He could make anything and fix anything, and while it wasn’t much to look at — it worked.  And the fix was usually permanent.  He spoke two languages fluently, Polish (his first language) and English, which he only learned upon entering public school in second grade — and he learned it at the expense of his idiot teachers calling him “stupid” because his English was so broken, so all his life, he thought of himself as “stupid.”  And by the way, his English  was so fluent that while you knew right away he was working class, you would never have guessed he hadn’t uttered a word of it till he was seven years old.  This is what shaped my life; these are the shoes his children have to try to fill.  Forget it.  That’s a truly hopeless task.

The last 2 ½ years of his life were spent in a nursing home, courtesy of falling and breaking a hip.  The surgery to repair it messed with his mind, and although he had physical therapy, he became afraid of walking, so that he lived in a wheelchair and had to put up with the indignity of other people taking care of his bodily needs.  Typically, he saw it as something he just had to bear, so he never complained about it.  I don’t know if I could be that humble if something similar happened to me.

And that brings me to the point of this post.  In the Orthodox Christian tradition, we are taught that humility is the key to open the gates of heaven.  Yes, baptism is a part of it, but it’s not the key; it’s the beginning of your life in Christ.  How you live is just as important as being baptized, since how you live shapes how you die; in other words, you can take the gift of Baptism and use it, or you can take it and throw it away.  If you throw a gift away, what good is it?  But if you use it, eventually it brings you to humility.

Dad was, hands down, the most humble man I’ve ever known, in the sense that he never tried to be what he was not, he knew his faults and accepted them, and downplayed his virtues, which were many.  He let his works speak for him, offering advice when it was asked for or necessary, not holding it against us when we refused to follow up on it.  He didn’t try to be A Dad; he just was, in his acceptance of what we were as we navigated the usual changes of life.

In notifying family and friends of his passing, I made the statement, “If humility is the key that opens the gates of heaven — Dad owns it.”  I’d love to have seen the look on his face when those gates swung wide to welcome him home, judgment-free.  In accordance with Orthodox tradition, I’ll pray for his soul; but in my own heart, I’ll also be asking for his prayers for us.  May his memory be eternal!

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