Monday #47: Mixed Blessings

Last week I presented you all with a morality question through a story about a dark and stormy night. It was interesting to see the responses both in the comments section as well as through some personal emails I received and actual conversations I had with readers. I guess I have to admit that, despite all my talk of creativity and out of the box thinking, I was stymied by my own inability to see the win-win-win. Like everyone I heard from, I wanted to help the old lady, and to acknowledge or pay back the friend who’d saved my life and to meet the person of my dreams (which, like many others, was my selfish top priority). But, I couldn’t find the way to do it all because I failed to see the option of separating myself from my car. The perfect solution, and many of you saw this immediately, was to give my car to the friend and ask them to take the old lady to the hospital while I stayed to ride the bus with my ideal person. I read the dilemma too literally. I stayed with the car and, in my analysis of this on a personal level, followed the “rules” too closely.

It’s a good thing to learn these things about our selves.

And, then I heard from Madelyn Kane who read the post on Wednesday and was excited and grateful to have seen our visit in the Poconos brought to life here on 52 Mondays. She also attached the thought-provoking column written by the late Nora Ephron about six years before her death and asked me what my take on it was. In the essay, Ephron focuses on aging and is her typical Ephron self, poking fun at herself and at life and, in general, exposing life’s truths, and the fears we have about them, in a humorous way. But there is a layer of dread in this piece that brings home the sense of mortality in someone who is facing it in a much different way than the proverbial “you-could-get-hit-by-a-bus-tomorrow” way. It is the dread of someone who has been diagnosed with a disease that has been determined by the medical professionals will shorten her life.

I survived turning 60, I was not thrilled to turn 61, I was less thrilled to turn 62, I didn’t much like being 63, I loathed being 64, and I will hate being 65.

I don’t let on about such things in person; in person, I am cheerful and Pollyanna-ish.

But the honest truth is that it’s sad to be over 60.

The long shadows are everywhere — friends dying and battling illness.

A miasma of melancholy hangs there, forcing you to deal with the fact that your life, however happy and successful, has been full of disappointments and mistakes, little ones and big ones.

My own thoughts about aging have historically been more positive and, while I like Ephron, this tone actually makes me feel a little depressed, to tell you the truth. She goes on to talk about her perceived lack of connection to the younger, more contemporary world in the same self-depricating fashion.

But it isn’t our day. It’s their day. We’re just hanging on. We can’t wear tank tops, we have no idea who 50 Cent is, and we don’t know how to use almost any of the functions on our mobile phones.

If we hit the wrong button on the remote control and the television screen turns to snow, we have no idea how to get the television set back to where it was in the first place.

(This is the true nightmare of the empty nest: your children are gone, and they were the only people in the house who knew how to use the remote control.)

Technology is a bitch. I can no longer even work out how to get the buttons on the car radio to play my favourite stations. The gears on my bicycle mystify me. On my bicycle!

And thank God no one has given me a digital wristwatch.

In fact, if any of my friends are reading this, please don’t ever give me a digital anything.

Ephron finally gets to Death, the Sniper, as she calls it, and relates the story about her close friend Judy who passed away after a horrible illness as well as another friend, Henry who left an inspirational folder full of the directions he wanted his loved ones to follow upon his death. She kvetches about her own indecision on what she would like to happen after her own passing and then quickly gets to the part of her piece which is, I think, actually the best part.

And that reminds me to say something about bath oil. I use this bath oil I happen to love. It’s called Dr Hauschka’s lemon bath. It costs about £15 a bottle, which is enough for about two weeks of baths if you follow the instructions.

The instructions say one capful per bath. But a capful gets you nowhere. A capful is not enough. I have known this for a long time.

But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today.

So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine. After I take a bath, my bathtub is as dangerous as an oil slick. But thanks to the bath oil, I’m as smooth as silk.

The article is billed as “the advice Nora Ephron wished she would have had” but I’m not so sure that’s the main gist of the piece, if only because so much of it–until the end–makes me feel kind of bad. She does finally get to the advice part, and it’s a great message wrapped in metaphor–to use more bath oil– but it is after a long litany of fear and regret which I find unfortunate for someone so creative. I understand that Ephron’s take on things has always been sharp and humorously cynical, but I much prefer the idea that getting older doesn’t mean we have to be broken down, out of touch and full of regret for our own mistakes and foibles.

By coincidence, I learned today, just before posting this, that the mother of a very dear friend of mine passed away last Thursday. I had the pleasure of meeting this woman earlier this year when I visited my friend at her home in Miami, Florida. My friend’s mom was 93 when I met her, addled by dementia but still making connections here and there and overall, one of the most pleasant and charming people I have ever met. She spent her last days on this planet in the loving company of her daughter and her caretaker. She made conversation and observations during meals where she ate heartily, she laughed often, she watched her favorite musicals with a smile of familiarity on her face and, most profoundly, played the piano with joy and verve–remembering each note and lyric from her days as a celebrated concert pianist.

I am told she died peacefully and without pain. Winona, if you are floating out there in the ether, I want you to know how glad I am to have met you and to have bore witness to your life here on this planet in its conclusion. I wish you safe and happy travels to your next destination.

TRY THIS WEEK: Anything that brings you bliss.

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About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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