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Yo-Yoing February

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Carol Bossard

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Due to that recent warm spell, my enthusiastic little crocus bulbs are putting forth green shoots. And this week, we have another warm day or two to encourage them. Has anyone seen skunk cabbage peeking out of swamps yet? My former drive to work took me through swampy areas, so I always noticed those green-y/ purple-y, pointed, smelly leaves. You wouldn’t want them in a bouquet, but they are a visible sign of spring.  Spring, on the calendar, is about a month away. But Easter is early this year (we are now in the season of Lent, which, appropriately, began February 14th) and, to me, that means spring, regardless of the calendar. I’m in the mood for pollywogs, daffodils and Easter bonnets.

Back in the dark ages of elementary school, we celebrated Washington’s birthday today. Now-a-days, our first president must share the party with Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, on a mutual President’s Day, this past Monday.  I think George and Abe would probably enjoy a Lady Baltimore cake and pudding while having considerable conversation about our foolishly complex lives today. I expect that after leading the nation through a revolutionary war, and a civil war, our life-styles could seem a bit laughable, and even potentially hazardous.

February is a busy month for our family; several birthdays keep us hustling for appropriate cards and/or gifts. I don’t really mind; I have more of a problem when birthdays aren’t celebrated. I think un-noticed birthdays are a neglect of one’s personhood; ignoring what intricate and amazing creatures we are. Oh --- it’s just another day to me.”  Nonsense!  We need to celebrate and be glad for our existence. All this angst about age, “never ask a woman her age,”  is silly. Seemingly, in the last few decades, males have become just as anxious about aging as females. Thanks to a glitzy corporate culture and addiction to media stars, hair dye and skin products sell well for both genders.  We vain humans succumb easily to promises guaranteeing we will look younger and nearly wrinkle-free, and the dollars roll in to the persuasive retailers.

I wonder when we became a society that worships youth thinks being young is the only time that life is good. The place to be, and stay, forever? Admittedly, younger years have some advantages: agility of limbs, fresh-looking skin, boundless energy... all physical pluses.  But regardless of our misplaced adoration of it, youth isn’t the ultimate stage in good living. Maturing has its upside. One centenarian, when asked about the benefits of aging, replied, with a smile: “There is very little peer pressure!” That’s amusing, but there is so much more to anticipate! Having worked for 20 years with a county Agency on Aging, I observed a wide scope of behaviors and attitudes among people age 60 and older. Very few tried to deny age or remain forever young, and there were some cool, talented, articulate people among our clients.

There was one woman though, and I remember her because no one else was quite this ditsy and foolish. She was a nice enough person, but insisted on trying to be 40 years younger than she was. She regularly dyed her hair an unusual pinky-blonde, wore make- up that no longer went with her skin, and dressed in frilly, girly clothes. Her youthfulness was all on the surface like a mask, and unfortunately, she hadn’t developed much in the way of inner resources beneath that mask. She married again late in life, and sadly, when her husband became an invalid, she helplessly wrung her hands and said: “I didn’t count on this!” and promptly separated from him. She had little substance, no depth, and from what I could see, very little joy in life. She clung so tightly to her imagined “best time of life” that growing older brought neither wisdom nor happiness.

Aging gives us an opportunity to develop in understanding and complexity. While I appreciate all of the good times I had in my growing-up years, I would never wish to be eighteen again. I am not the same person I was at 18 or 25, or even 45. If we use our brains, in every passing year we grow in confidence about who we are. Those of us who reach our 8th and 9th decades, feel free to be as Boho, as eccentric, as unusual as seems good to us. What people may think of us is no longer a major concern.  We can develop our unique sense of fun, our spiritual lives and perception of the world around us as far as our souls take us. After all, we have observed the world turning several times, and ----if we have used our common sense ----- we know what is important and what isn’t.

Naturally, we want to maintain our physical bodies as well as is possible. I wish I had taken better care of mine earlier!  All that gardening, with no sun screen, did my pale, Scottish skin no favors. While I wouldn’t put my face under the knife of a face-lift, I do have my own little cache of moisturizers and lotions. I am also notoriously inept with my hair. One hair professional, who I knew well, said: “please don’t mess with your hair!  You’ll just botch the job!”  Fortunately, my parents both grayed late in life and the inherited genes have been kind. Some people pay well for added silver highlights. So, I worry none at all about increasing silver, and don’t moan a lot about a facial crease here and there.  I do miss wearing sparkly, high-heeled shoes, but because I wish to walk, I’m glad to find (SIGH) inch-high heeled shoes that support my uncooperative ankles and don’t look too therapeutic.  Obviously, more than a dollop of vanity lingers, and probably will for all of us, as long as we live.

We should be asking ourselves why the outer shell of a person should seem so much more worthy than the inner core?  Why is it that we judge a person by how svelte their bodies, glamorous their hair or smooth their skin?  Or how chic their clothes?  What about a beautiful brain?  And a light spirit? A wonderful sense of humor? A stock of information and/or wisdom? Someone said: “When any older person dies, we’ve lost an important piece of history.” This is so true.  The stories vanish!! There are one or two people in our community who are older than we are, and I love listening to their tales of growing up.  And I am assured about our own offspring who, having their own stories of pranks and difficulties, but continue to exhibit the integrity, the humor and the caring for community that was a hallmark of those older friends, in their stories.

Back to birthdays; the day is surely worth at least a special cookie, if not a four-layer cake and a brass band.  Some years ago, for or my husband’s 50th birthday, we put together a jazz band, with the help of a few musical friends.  Kerm had said so often that he wanted a New Orleans jazz band for his funeral, that we thought it’d be a good gift for his 50th birthday.  And it was!!  But even if you must celebrate without a brass band, doing something special is not a waste of time.  Dance around the room (carefully!!).  Take a few moments to be glad you are you. Carl Jung *said: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are!”  Have a special treat --- chocolates, ice cream, tea, lemonade, a brandy Alexander ---- whatever makes you smile.  You are unique ---- you have blessed the world for however many years and you deserve to take note.  A birthday is an excellent time to run your memory film backward --- to recall all the good times; the special, growing occasions you’ve experienced; how you have become who you are.

Birthdays or not, we still have some winter weather.  Someone recently said: “Winter is definitely a ‘Wonderland’.   I wonder if I’ll slip on the snow!  I wonder how many inches we’ll get.  I wonder if the car will start. I wonder where I left my gloves.”  I’m quite careful as I wander around our snowy yard, not wishing to fall flat.  But even as I shuffle through powdery snow and avoid muddy spots, to fill the bird feeders, I am energized by the negative ions filling that cold air. Chill breezes are the winter version of a summer water fall, and those ions are good for us; good for our brains and good for our spirits.

There are days, of course, when those negative ions aren’t sufficiently luring. I really don’t want to get out and face the weather.  Nor do I have the energy for deep-knee bends to ready my legs for gardening.  Late in the day, all that chopping for salad sounds like too much.  But I come from relatively stubborn people, so I keep assuring myself that this feeling will pass.  If I can just push through, I will feel better and more able to cope.  But sometimes we do need a respite.  There is this whimsical, little Self-Help that someone posted on FB:

                                How to stop time: Kiss

                                How to travel in time: Read

                                  How to escape time: Music

                                   How to feel time: Write

                                       How to release time: Breathe**

In other words, stop and refuel!  Little interludes restore one’s zing.  For this last bit of winter, remember this little ditty by Robert Frost***:  The way a crow shook down on me the dust of snow from a hemlock tree.  Has given my heart a change of mood, and saved some part of the day I had rued.”  Perception, changing one’s mood, is part of life.  Yoyoing from birthdays to bad days to better days is how we roll.

CarolBossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

*Carl Jung ---World-famous Swiss psychologist.  Also a prolific writer, illustrator and correspondent.  1875-1961.

**from Inspiration Power Bost.

***Robert Frost ---- Widely loved New England poet.  1874-1963.

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