The Worst Obituary I’ve Ever Read

I have a paper clutter problem at home. One cause of that problem is that I tear out newspaper and magazine articles that interest me. I figure I’ll use the articles for reference or blog content at some later point in time, so the paper collects in files or small piles.  I was getting a jump on spring cleaning when I found this ragged article on a floor.

“Far-right, anti-Semitic organizer who denied the Holocaust”

Worst obituary

This obituary for — I’ll call him “Mr. C” — was the largest headline on the page. Most prominent obituaries trumpet the professional or civic accomplishments of the deceased, leaving a reader with a sense of a community’s or family’s deeply-felt loss.  But, Mr. C’s obituary read like a resumé of his efforts to advance extremist beliefs.  Even Washington, D.C.’s spin-meisters wouldn’t salvage this one.

I wondered:  Did a bitter family member submit the obituary? Nope. Maybe there was someone left behind who was getting left out?  Nope.  This missive was written by “Staff Reports.” It was fine, objective reporting and writing. The Staff worked with what they had.

There didn’t seem to be any material that could cast the deceased Mr. C in a sympathetic or heroic light. There weren’t statements to indicate his beliefs actually helped anyone. What more could Staff say about an apparent recluse, who didn’t seem to have any personal or significant relationships?  Even his wife lived in a different city, and there was only one sentence to acknowledge her existence.

The obituary noted that ‘Mr. C’ was notorious for his “extremist views” that “resonated with generations of neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and other fringe elements.” Among his recommendations was that “black Americans be deported to Africa.” (We’ve heard that one before.) Evidently, Mr. C’s pro-segregation / apartheid /white separatist / anti-Semitic publications and organizations landed them on Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center watch lists.

Mr. C was noted as being way far right and conservative. But, not even William F. Buckley, Jr. wanted him in his camp.

I looked for nuggets of humanity and personal relationships; some bit of redemption in the long summary of Mr. C’s life. I thought he would have been beloved among his fellow extremists, but he wasn’t. He had failed relationships, even among that crowd.  His network was strewn with burned bridges.

Upon his death, only the publications Mr. C founded said anything positive. They expressed gratitude that he championed their extremist causes. The only additional information I gleaned was that he had served in the military and earned a Purple Heart.

In contrast, I saw this heading for a politician’s death notice in Time magazine, February 15, 2016:  “Beloved mayor, convicted felon.”  This heading ticked off the plus and minus boxes of the mayor’s life. The writeup was brief, but very clear that the mayor’s legacy was his contributions to his city, through his support of arts and historic preservation, new parks, and schools. The pluses of the mayor’s life eclipsed his felony conviction.

I was laughing when I described Mr. C’s obituary headline to a friend. Were there raucous cheers out there somewhere at the news of his demise, like the residents of Oz when they heard “The Wicked Witch is dead”?  I was incredulous that this was the best life this guy was willing to live, and he had worked very hard at it. Readers might surmise that Mr. C had succeeded in being an asshole his whole adult life.

Even though it was funny in that sense, it was very sad in another. No friends, no family, no life.

Let’s consider Mr. C’s obituary to be “Exhibit A” for how you do not want to be remembered. In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington said that people can “live up to the best version of [their] eulogy.” Along that same line, a famous poem, “The Dash,” explains that life occurs in the dash between your date of birth and your date of death. The poem concludes with the question whether you would be proud of the things said at your eulogy.

Would you?

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Aging: It Doesn’t Have to be Straight Downhill

Aging — it happens every minute of our lives and starts at birth.  Aging — it  can neither be denied nor held at bay, not even with alluring products and superfoods that claim “anti-aging” magic. In developed countries, we’re living longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going well.

Let’s aim for living and aging well.

I wonder all the time how well will I age, and what kind of old person will I be?  From observing people around me — and remembering the people I no longer see — I figure that how well anyone gets on down this road is partly in their control, and partly a crapshoot (including the vagaries of the gene pool).

My parents aged differently, although my father had quite a long run. He was house-bound and no longer driving his car the last two years of his life. When Daddy was having a rough time, he’d chuckle and recite this poem:

The Golden Years are here at last

I cannot see, I cannot pee

I cannot chew, I cannot screw

My memory shrinks, my hearing stinks

No sense of smell, I look like hell

The Golden Years are here at last

The Golden Years can kiss my ass

(Original version by Kimers)

My mother, on the other hand —  “Ms. Daisy” —  is still vibrant in her late 80s, having adventures of her own. I also know a certain nonagenarian, who’s closer to 100 years of age than not, who recently went on a Panama Canal cruise with his younger girlfriend. My three siblings and I share this gene pool and it’s not clear yet how things will go for us. It seems that I’m the one with some kind of weakness, having had major surgeries of the back, abdomen, and breast at a fairly young age. But, so far so good for us all.

American culture glorifies youth, who often act like older people are just in the way; that they have an expiration date or a shelf life. I saw as much in trite comments about former President Jimmy Carter on Twitter after his cancer diagnosis was announced. A few comments were along the lines of: “He’s had a long life, no need to be sad” and “It’s gotta happen sometime,” etc.  This former President continues to add value to this world into his nineties. He is a treasure, plain and simple. We should all strive to be fractionally as productive. (And Mr. Carter is a lifelong tennis player, too.)

Don’t underestimate old folk or write them off.  I was in my 20s when I faced an unlikely opponent in a tennis tournament. She walked slowly onto the court wearing surgical stockings and a thin sweater, like she had a chill. She carried only her racquet, not a tournament bag full of gear like the rest of us. To me, she looked old as hell. I thought: ‘I’ve got this.  I’ll overpower that old lady and run every ball down.’ Old Lady had a different notion. She planted herself in the region of the court called “No Man’s Land” to return my serves and ground strokes. (Few people have the skills to play an entire match there.) Old Lady took all my balls on the rise and yanked me from corner to corner. Hardly moving from that area the whole match — and certainly not breaking a sweat — Old Lady ended it with ruthless efficiency. I was running balls down all right, many of which were out of reach.

This is how I looked.

Puppet_1_

Old Lady waxed me with wisdom.

The other aspect of aging is accepting and feeling positive about physical changes you cannot help without surgery. I’m not a fan of plastic surgery because I don’t want to have “puppet-face.” Besides, it’s a waste of money; gravity wins over time.  Speaking of which, looking down in a mirror revealed to me gravity’s effects on my face and neck. I was, like, damn….  Anyway, there are a lot of things to come to terms with as time marches on. I’ll embrace the aging process because I’m happy to be here, and I’m still me. There’s always some wise person to remind us that growing old beats the alternative.

This photo of tennis teammates makes my point for living and aging well. (Teammates ranged in age from a few thirty-somethings to one septagenarian, featured below. To say this team was “selective” is an understatement. Everybody kicked butt!)

Teammates from the Maryland State Champions 2015, 3.5 18 & over women's team

Vicious Vollies / Prince George’s County – Maryland State Champions 2015, 3.5 18 & over women’s team – Photo courtesy of Tinya Coles-Cieply

Taking an example from a certain President and a certain tennis teammate, this is how I want to be in my Senior Years:

  • Helpful and an inspiration to others
  • Still an athlete, playing USTA league matches in every age category from 18 & over  to Super Seniors (ages 65-85)
  • Not dependent on meds
  • Still traveling
  • Full of joy
  • Hanging with friends (young and old)

How do you see yourself in your Senior Years?

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American Womankind: A Magazine Review

Making its debut in Spring 2015, American Womankind was a delightful surprise, speaking to a hunger I didn’t know I had.  I needed smart, engaging, and thought-provoking writing every bit as much as I craved visual pleasure. Womankind has both.

Born in Australia, Womankind intrigued and seduced me at the cover, a butterfly encrusted portrait of Simone de Beauvoir, the French feminist philosopher and long-time companion of Jean Paul Sartre, French existential philosopher.  Composed of thousands of tiny butterflies in varying colors and patterns, the portrait hints at the theme of the spring publication.  If you think about the life cycle of a butterfly, you can imagine the process of transformation that is part of all life.  Like butterflies, we are in the process of becoming.  What will we become?  What roads will we travel to get there?  With what will we identify?

womankind covers

Womankind invites you— without carping—to examine the life you lead, to learn something about women in history whose stories you may not have heard before, and to live more mindfully on the planet.  There’s both strength and delicacy in the delivery of essays like: “The Celebrity Machine,” Cooking As Meditation,” and “The One Story That’s Changing Your Life,” framed with startling art, photography and graphics that relate to the articles.

Womankind’s well-written essays explore topics and people in a way I haven’t encountered before— and in a format that invites my curiosity and engagement.  Fresh perspectives from artists and writers, concerned with different aspects of the same topic, were paired in such a way as to resonate with my own thinking.  I was not just informed, but enlightened; affirmed, as well as supported.  I feel that my ability to look at myself individually and as a member of society is respected by this magazine.  The lack of advertising invites me to see myself as something more than a consumer.  Finally, the magazine inspires as it celebrates women in every aspect of life through art, prose, and poetry.

My second issue of American Womankind arrived with Frida Kahlo, the Mexican revolutionary artist and wife of artist Diego Rivera, on the cover.  This time, the portrait was composed of a miniature garden of brightly colored flowers.  Again, I was struck by the quality of the content. One essay, “Frontier wars,” by Todd Miller, explored the impact of immigration laws on ordinary people who just want to do ordinary things like take their children to visit grandparents. Regardless of politics, one can’t help but be touched by this human interest piece.

If you’re looking for an intelligent, though -provoking, and visually-engaging magazine, try American Womankind, available at some Barnes & Noble locations, or at womankindmag.com.

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Author – Cheryl

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It Takes Guts to “Get a Life”

My vacation in Spain last year left me with a long-lasting after-glow. While there, I talked quite a bit with people I met from England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  They were all in their mid-30s to mid-50s. Their stories inspired me.

John and Lisa

This couple exited London’s “rat-race” and their stressful professions to travel the world and figure out where, and how, to live a more fulfilling life. They settled on a resort community on the Costa Blanca. This location is the complete opposite of England’s culture and climate.

John and Lisa found an opportunity to start a business that would give expression to their life philosophy. It started with buying a hotel. To me, this was a bold move and quite a commitment for new owners inexperienced in the hospitality services industry.

In 2013, their hotel became a yoga retreat. From what I saw, John and Lisa have created a flexible lifestyle for themselves. It doesn’t mean they work fewer hours — after all, it’s a business, and a new one at that. But, as part of a day’s work, they lead guests in activities they enjoy themselves, like yoga and hikes. How sweet is that??!  They oversee the menus and have an amazing chef who creates gourmet vegan meals. Healthful, fresh juices are prepared twice-a-day as a between-meals treat. They enjoy it all along with their guests!

John and Lisa went all-in with their life philosophy and they “walk the talk.” This couple’s bold move is a success. They are thriving and growing, right along with their business.

La Costa Blanca shoreline

La Costa Blanca shoreline in Albir

La Crisalida Yoga Retreat

La Crisalida Yoga Retreat

Gail (not her real name)

Gail is a single woman in her late 40s – vibrant, fit, and focused. In fact, she had focused for years on the corporate ladder. She was in a high profile, fast-paced division of a large multi-national corporation in London, earning a lucrative salary. At some point, she began to feel unbalanced and unfulfilled.

When we met at the yoga retreat, she was resisting the demands of her job. Her boss expected her to create a blog in her role as an industry leader, even though maintaining it would encroach on her personal time. She and her colleagues were expected to attend to the incessant beep, buzz, and ring of their corporate-issued devices. The pressure to do so outside of regular work hours was intense.

Gail pondered key life areas, like a romantic relationship and motherhood, and decided they mattered to her after all. She had sacrificed these things in her climb up the ladder. Because of her age, the window of opportunity was closing fast.

When we met, Gail had worked out her exit strategy. I asked her what was next.  She said, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to be a foster mum.” I didn’t expect that answer. Transitioning to a full-time “foster mum” as a career??!  To me, that was extraordinary; in fact, it shocked the hell out of me. I expected to hear about a conventional change in profession, or a move to a smaller organization.

Gail told me about the foster parent application process and the upcoming training. She is unconcerned about diminished income, and is saving enough money to make the transition within a year. Gail has a calling to be a parent, whether she has a partner or not. She has a lot of love to give, and wants to give it to children. Gail’s big transition was to fulfill a key life area that matters most to her – parenting.

Jess and Family

I met Jess and her husband at breakfast, where we were all staying at a B&B. It was a brief, but fortuitous meeting – at least for me. First, we were the only native English-speaking guests at the breakfast table. Second, I was interested in starting a blog, and Jess already has one. Our conversation probably lasted all of 15 minutes, but it made a lasting impression on me.

Jess and her family are from London, and moved within the Eurozone to warm and sunny coastal Spain. She and her husband have portable work and can support the family from anywhere. The family later relocated inland, away from resort areas, for full immersion in Spanish culture. This major change was a strategic move.  Jess and her husband want their kids to be bilingual and bicultural. Cost of living was also part of the rationale for change. Almost anywhere in Spain is cheaper to live than London, which means more resources for family travel. The icing on the cake? Jess’s business is a world-wide lodging resource for travelers; and when her family travels, they check out those lodgings featured here.

This is how you create the lifestyle you want!

glass

Les Cols Pavellons is close to the Garrotxa Volcanic Nature Reserve. The property offers guests zen décor rooms with glass floors and walls. This beautiful setting brings the outdoors in.

Dany / Thijs

Dany and Thijs quit their jobs and moved to Valencia, Spain from the Netherlands. One of them was a Type A kind of guy, in a high-stress profession, who was on the verge of becoming a nervous wreck. What’s the antidote for a Type A personality? Immersion in yoga and meditation. If geography could also improve his outlook and resources, then cheaper, sunny Valencia was the answer. Dany got on board with the plan and together they moved to a place in the sun.

Dany and Thijs figured out the lifestyle they wanted to have and conceived a business to make it happen. That business became an award-winning B&B.  They leveraged their talents to create a welcoming and artsy environment for their guests. And, every year, they reward themselves with extensive travel in the off-season. As one of them told me, “I don’t worry about the future.”

I admired what he said, and wondered what it would be like to not worry about the future….

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

Turia Gardens

Turia Gardens

So, how was I inspired?

It takes courage and intention to “get a life.”  It takes a certain amount of introspection and honesty about your priorities to figure out if change is necessary, and what it would mean to you (or your family).

As a practical, somewhat risk-averse, single woman, I am my own safety net. About a year ago, I realized my job had begun to feel like a real grind. I was in an energy-draining loop of home-to-work-to-home (and maybe a tennis match in the evening). And, that was not the healthy life I pictured for myself after battling breast cancer!  Having a balanced life was something I always talked about, and mine was feeling anything but.  I decided I would “get a life.”

Now, I am working out my own “rat-race” exit strategy. I’m putting my energy toward being creative and other things about which I’m passionate. And, my eyes are wide open for opportunities to enjoy life and make a difference.

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