Young and Old

Baby Charlotte had a stressful first Christmas. She tested positive for RSV and spent Christmas night and today in the hospital. As a medical transcriptionist by trade, I am always ready to research information on anything medical, so I did some searches on the Internet about RSV. Doctors like to monitor RSV in infants because it can so often turn into pneumonia, which, of course, can be fatal at such a young age.

Charlotte only has one risk factor - that of her age (6 weeks). At a birth weight of 10-1/2 pounds, she definitely was not premature, nor did she have any other risk factors on the list. Only her neonate status.

I found it interesting that the very young are at risk for RSV - and the very old.

People my age are called the Sandwich Generation. Many of us are caring for children still at home and at the same time, having to care for aging parents. Both groups rely on us to be there, demanding our attention, energy, concern, money, and love.

Today I had to work, although it was understandably very hard to focus, as Charlott'e condition was very much on my mind. I transcribed a report of a 91-year-old woman. They admitted her to the hospital with the symptoms of pneumonia, to monitor her and try to catch the disease with antibiotics. As I listened to her diagnoses and plans for treatment, I was thinking about this old lady and young Charlotte, both having to be hospitalized for a respiratory illness because their health risk factors make them vulnerable.

Viruses that might visit the healthy adult population as a minor inconvenience suddenly become extremely dangerous when they fall into the very young and very old. Both the very young, and frequently the very old, are also totally dependent on others for their care, what the medical community calls their "activities of daily living" (bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.) So many of Hurricane Katrina's victims were poor, but the very old and very young - those who were dependent on others for their very lives - shouldered the most burden.

I once for fun rewrote all the Christmas carols from the viewpoint of an old man. The most provocative one, I think, was The Little Drummer Boy. In my version, the old man is looking at the Baby Jesus and remarks, "He has no teeth like me; he has no hair like me." Babies and old folks might have more in common than we realize!

It's the cycle of life. What goes around comes around. The alpha and omega. We are born dependent and we so often die dependent. And I guess it's just as frustrating for the baby as for the old person. It is hard to be so vulnerable, our very lives dependent on others' responsible (or irresponsible) natures. At these two extreme stages of life, some are blessed to have that support in place. Others, unfortunately, are not.

Ed, when he was a pastor, once visited the beside of a dying woman. He told me she was ready to go, and he knew that because she was in the fetal position. A fetal position - ready to leave the world she knew and be born again into another. From womb, back to womb.

I have heard it said that every society will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. I think as individuals and as a society we need to be reminded every so often who fits in the "risk category" for that label and act accordingly.

Charlotte came home from the hospital this evening. I don't know what will happen to the 91-year-old lady. But she is in my heart as well.

Under the microscope

I had another opportunity to fool around with Photoshop, the editing software, this week. I was uploading another photo of myself to an MT site, and all of a sudden, my curiosity was piqued and I performed the greatest of fear feats, more horrible than King Kong, more scary than Fear Factor. I decided to use the microscope tool and zone in on my face.

Awash with the feeling that I definitely should not be doing it, I zoomed in on a pink spot I considered a defect. Then I zoomed a little more. Anyone with photo editing experience can deduce what I saw next. I saw no defect. I saw no skin, no face, no follicles, no cells. All I saw were pixels. Various color pixels. Unrecognizable pixels. Meaningless pixels.

Where was the defect? I even got geographically lost on my face. I couldn't even remember exactly where I was in the picture. My cheek? My chin? My forehead? Good grief!

I reversed the microscope and zoomed back out, then out some more. Ah, there I was! It was my face! With the defect! Clear as day!

I repeated the steps, zooming in, zooming out. The difference was amazing. The entire picture was made up of pixels (thousands? millions?) which, standing alone, had no identity and no meaning. But together, they made up my face.

It seemed kind of backwards, really. Usually the closer in you get to something, the larger the defect looms. Instead, on closer microscopic-like inspection, defect had virtually disappeared.

One of Ed's sermon involved a cross-stitch picture I had made (and never had framed). He showed the congregation the back of the picture. It was a mess of tangled threads and colors that twisted and criss-crossed with pieces of thread hanging off where they were cut. It was basically unrecognizable as a picture. He would say, "That's what our lives look like to us."
Then he turned the picture over and showed the congregation the front - a perfect, well-stitched picture. Then he would say, "And that's what our lives look like to God."

I am always brought to a new level in thinking when something like this happens. When you look at yourself (and humanity) through God's eyes, you see the recognizable picture. And somehow, the defects recede and you focus on the beauty of the picture. It's my wish for all of us this year.

Merry Christmas!

Light a candle

Every once in awhile in my reading I will come across an interesting tidbit that I feel led to share with others. In the latest issue of Oxygen, there is an article called "Your Key to Success in Life." One of those keys, the article maintains, is resiliency - the ability to bounce back after life knocks you down. By the time you are my age, you've had your share of those situations. In a perfect world, age brings wisdom, but not always, so I am always anxious to hear others' experiences about their ability to transcend failure and disappointment.

The woman quoted in this article is Dr. Carol Orsborn, speaker and author. Here's her take on not letting negative emotions defeat you: "It's important to feel your emotions, but sometimes when you're in a crisis situation you have to be able to set them aside momentarily," she says.

Admit to yourself how big the emotional wound is and buy a candle that matches how upset you are. Some upsets are little and require a birthday candle. Other upsets are worth bigger candles, which you can burn for an hour a night. As long as the candle burns, allow yourself to feel your emotions. When the candle burns out, it's time to move on.

I was impressed with this idea. So simple, yet potentially so effective.

When Ed was going to AA and getting sober, he was frequently warned about the "pity pot." "Get off the pity pot," they would say at meetings when a member would just have depressing and discouraging things to say and would not come out of a funk. My friend Bernie, before she died when she was in the last stages of hepatitis C, would ask her husband permission for a few minutes to complain, then it was over with and she resumed her usual positive attitude.

I really like the candle idea. It forces us to evaluate exactly how deep the hurt/offense/failure is (we usually tend to overestimate this), and it gives us a tool to allow ourselves to feel hurt and sorry for ourselves, but at the same time, allows us to move on with our life in a positive and productive way. Acknowledgement of the hurt, but not defeat - relinquishing the pity pot to its proper place. I thought that was interesting enough to share.

I Want That!

There's a TV show on the Home and Garden Television channel called "I Want That!" One of their ads for the show (I'm paraphrasing here) announced that the products featured on that show were things that yesterday you didn't know existed but today you just have to own. That's not the exact wording, but you get the gist. It sounds like a situation where you aren't thinking about cake, don't care about cake particularly, but you see a photo of a cake on the front of a magazine and suddenly you want cake. If you have had cake before, this one promises to be more delicious than anything you've ever tasted. If you have never had cake before, well, then you deserve some cake, now that you see it and have awakened to what you have been missing. Oh, yes, the marketing teams have done their research.

I've watched the show a couple of times, and it is truly amazing the inventions they are creating these days. I can understand how the marketing executives came up with that catchy title. I can imagine viewers watching the program, saying, "Hey! That looks handy!" "Such a great idea!" "I could really use that!" and finally, of course, "I need that!" No matter that I have lived 51 years very nicely without "that," thank you very much. All of a sudden it is a priority. The "want" list gets smaller as we transfer items over to the "need" list.

Recently I was out with Ed running errands, and I suddenly realized I had left the cell phone at home. Horrors! I was actually going to be away from the house without the cell phone! I could not be contacted! No matter that we had an answering machine at home to take messages - I had a few seconds of panic anyway. Then Ed, the ever practical Ed, turned to me and said, "A few years ago you didn't even have a cell phone. You got along wonderfully without it. You could actually drive locally without having to be available to someone who wanted to talk to you." And then Ed with a gasp, eyes wide, said sarcastically, "And you actually survived!"

I called Mother last night and she said Matt had called her on his cell phone while he was riding in his car (just the passenger; not driving). In the ensuing conversation, she talked about her amazement that someone could call from his car. We talked about the people in her generation (she is 82 years old) and all the technological changes they have experienced in their lifetimes.

"I Want That" certainly understands this. According to the show's web site, they "...showcase innovations for the home that are so new they almost haven't happened yet." And with each new technological advancement, whatever you own has become obsolete. Haven't you heard? They are building bigger, better, more complicated, more intriguing, more powerful things than whatever you have now. Don't you want to be on the cutting edge of invention? Don't you want to be the envy of all your friends? Don't you want to be the first on the block to own one?

I started thinking about how many things our generation owns that we consider necessities - the very things that in previous generations were things that were luxuries - or things that had never even been imagined yet, even in their wildest dreams.

A friend of ours is trying to sell her house. It is a modest one, in downtown Ellsworth. It looks like a good price and is in a good neighborhood. She confessed to me why she thinks it hasn't sold. "It has only one bathroom," she stated sadly. One bathroom! I grew up in a house with 3 other people and we all shared one bathroom and managed fine. Now it's a necessity, even in modest homes, to have at least 1-1/2 bathrooms, preferably 2. This big house of ours has 2-1/2 baths. I imagine there are some families who won't even consider a house with less than 3 bathrooms.

I'm not trying to judge what is necessity and what is luxury for everyone. I wouldn't presume to. But it is helpful sometimes to stop and think just what is considered a necessity in our lives and why. Some inventions in my lifetime, like seat belts and child car seats, are truly for society's welfare. Others, though, seem to be just one more way for me to throw away money in that elusive search for contentment and fulfillment.

Watch out, Seiko

It appears that a lot of folks have the same reaction to the latest round of Seiko watch ads that I have had. Disbelief. It's one of those times you just have to shake your head, because there's nothing that can be said. Nonetheless, I will try to say it anyway.

For the uninitiated, Seiko's latest commercials state a number of "facts." These "facts" rotate depending on the commercial (in print and TV) but they state things like this:

It's not your car. It's not your music. It's not your favorite color. It's not your neighborhood. It's not your perfume. It's your watch that tells the most about who you are.

Now, during the Christmas season, I expect to be inundated with senseless, moronic ads that try to entice the consumer by playing on greed, envy, lust, power - you name it. You have to admit, though, this is a new low.

I've talked a lot about Identity in this blog, and I can guarantee you it isn't revealed by the watch you wear. I'm sure most people know this, but Seiko is apparently trying to convince us otherwise. Or maybe they're pushing the envelope of advertising nonsense for the publicity.

Martin Marty of The Christian Century writes, "The most pathetic in a field rich in pathos is the Seiko ad pronouncing, 'It's not your shoes. It's not your car. It's not your music. It's your watch that tells most about who you are.'" There seem to be many bloggers and others posting on the Internet who are lambasting this senseless ad.

Of course, my background is in the church, and the Bible verse that came immediately to my mind during this ad was, "They will know your love." But I guess that wouldn't sell jewelry.

Ah, the magic....

Not of Christmas ---- of Photoshop!

The family got together recently to take our annual family Christmas picture. This is a major feat, and the difficulty is compounded with every new individual in the photo. It's one more person who needs to have his/her eyes open, pleasant expression, hair in place, and all the other requirements of a decent family Christmas picture.

Now notice the picture to the left. Something is obviously awry.
I have my back to the camera, Ed is apparently creating mischief, Matt is either attacking or saving Sarah. The people on the couch are even worse! Is everyone trying to sabotage the photo I work so hard to create?

No, this is our "stupid" picture. It has been our tradition that after taking about 15-20 photos, for the final photo we are encouraged to assume "stupid" expressions and "stupid" positions for the "stupid" picture. It is the last photo of what is usually a lengthy and grueling photo shoot, and all involved are encouraged to let off some steam at having been made to sit for a long period of time with smiles on their faces.

Even in the "stupid" picture, you can see there is work to be done in the background. There are shadows behind the people standing up, a key rack on the wall and a framed picture that could be erased. Those (and other minor irregularities) were in the official photo, too. Not any more! Thanks to Matt, the geek king, I have learned how to use Photoshop and get rid of pesky things like pimples and flyaway hair (the flyaway part, not the hair, although I can do that, too). I can maneuver buttonholes, beards and bra straps. I can even add teeth! Hoo boy! I am invincible!

Seriously, though, my newly acquired skill did make me stop and think about the validity of this fact: We hear so often that the aging American woman cannot look at the models and actresses in magazines without thinking, "Why can't I look that good?" Well, heck, if I can do this minimal photo manipulation with Photoshop, I have to remember what the professionals can do with their editing software. The women you see in their photos don't even exist - at least not in that perfect form. I read once that those editors routinely enlarge the pupils of the models, creating a more "attractive" look. (And I thought inserting a tooth was the epitome of expertise!)

Just a reminder to all the aging women out there: Next time you see a gorgeous, perfect model in a magazine, say to yourself one word (and it helps if you do it with a moderate smirk) -

So this is love?

Honestly, very little surprises me anymore. I was reading a magazine the other day and came upon a full-page ad. On the top of the page was this message:

What extraordinary love looks like.

For the first second of seeing the ad, that phrase was all I had noticed. Extraordinary love? What would you expect to see after that phrase? A photo of Mother Teresa ministering to the dying? A parent donating one of their children's organs? A little kid collecting thousands of stuffed animals for charity? Jimmy Carter building a Habitat for Humanity house? An old woman taking gentle care of a spouse with Alzheimer's? How about a newborn in its mother's arms? Maybe, because it's Christmas, a manger scene?

Well, if you guessed any of the above you guessed wrong. Under that phrase there was a huge color photograph of 3 Cartier rings dripping with diamonds.

Christmas seems to bring out the worst and the best of us all at the same time. We have enough problems at this time of year equating love with material things. Extraordinary love, indeed! Shame on you, Cartier!


What's the closest relationship we have in this life? The one that makes us vulnerable, scared, surprised, aggravated, disappointed, ecstatic, or sad?

Yes, we have such a close relationship with our parents. Definitely our siblings. Also, our kids. And certainly, our spouses/partners.

What happens when we feel the most awful emotion of betrayal? The closer the relationship, the worse it is. Our vulnerability has been breached. Our love has been tested. We are innocent, we tell you, innocent!

Indeed, sometimes we are, and don't deserve betrayal. Yet sometimes our actions have instigated it and deep down we realize that this is true.

But most of the relationships above are limited. We will undoubtedly live part of our lives without one or the other. There is one relationship, though, that we are stuck with. Permanently, at least as long as this fleeting life can be called permanent - kind of an oxymoron, I know. At any rate, I think in your 40s and 50s you have to come to terms with this relationship, step back, observe, and - yes - eventually feel betrayed. The relationship I am talking about is the one between us and our bodies.

Most of us are ambling along in life just great, feeling wonderful, young, carefree - until one day we start realizing that we are on the downhill slope. We are slowly deteriorating. It certainly does not happen overnight. But it happens. And I, for one, don't like it.

Hey, Body, I thought we had a fairly good relationship! We've been through a lot, but come through OK, haven't we? In one piece? Not the worse for wear? We're in this together, Body. We're all we've got, and our goal is to live long and healthy, right? So what's this about cropping up with a thyroid nodule, hmmm? What's this about a bone scan that shows that my spine is weakening year by year? What's this about fat and wrinkles and muscle cramps and fatigue and gravitational droop and poor eyesight and decreased hearing and gray hair? What's that all about?

Betrayal! I shouted. How could you do this to me, after all I've done for you?

Oh yes, I was furious. I had every right to be! Then I stepped back and thought a minute and tried to observe my body's point of view. (I guess I had an "out-of-body experience.") What have I done for my body to turn on me? OK, I realize some of this is just the natural cycle of aging. As in any relationship, both sides grow and change and these things happen. But I am not innocent. Oh, no, after the things I have done (and not done), I can't weep innocently. I know what I have contributed to the breakdown of this relationship. I knew exactly what had been going wrong all those years. The ice cream and Cokes. The on-and-off exercise. The job of sitting all day. The face creams I bought but rarely used. The sunscreen I forgot to put on. The sleep I missed. The stress I did not alleviate.

Maybe it is really I who have betrayed my body. And now it's payback time.

It's a shame that the closest relationship of all has to ensure such betrayal - on both sides. My part in the betrayal especially hurts because, as most of us, I have always been blessed with no diseases and good health. And I have squandered many years of it, taking it for granted.

May we all give ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas season. Peace with our body, and a commitment to be "faithful" to it for as long as we are "together."

Sorry about that, Body. You deserve better.