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The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

Outrageous Eldering

 

“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes, for well aimed sling shots can topple giants.”-Maggie Kuhn, 1905-1995

I was just thinking about Maggie Kuhn who I had the pleasure of interviewing in the 1990’s. She was the outspoken founder of The Gray Panthers  which evolved out of  her experience of forced retirement from a career in peace and social justice . I love this quote:  “The older you get the more outrageous you can be because you have nothing to lose.”  She told me she wanted this inscription on her tombstone:  “Here lies Maggie Kuhn under the only stone she left unturned.” She passed in 1995 and I imagine she is still raising consciousness and maybe a necessary ruckus somewhere. What most touched me about Maggie was how unapologetic she was (and why should she be?) for living in defiance of  the stereotypes assigned to older folks. She surrounded herself with people from multiple generations; living in what I call a ‘family of choice’ home in Philly; with people in their 20’s and 30’s. She never married and had lovers many years her junior. By taking a stand for elders, she took a stand for all, since there will come a time when we (if we are lucky), reach our 70’s or 80’s. There are times when I think “I want to be like her when I grow up.” She seemed not to shrink, but rather, to expand when faced with challenges, facing up to naysayers. She was quite a force of nature and spoke openly about sex, which created discomfort in some who listened. According to this WWWOW (what I refer to as Wise, Wild, Wonderful Older Woman), “Sex and learning end only when rigor mortis sets in.”
Maggie feels like a kindred spirit in many ways to the elders that have been in my life, from maternal and paternal grandmothers, aunts and a cousin who were young widows and who recreated their lives as a result (kinda like me, when I was widowed at 40 and started anew). I have been blessed as well, with having my parents in my life into their 80’s and they were marvels at fresh starts following ‘retirement’ at 65 that led to nearly 2o more years of paid and volunteer work in their community. My Dad worked in their Town Center gym, bowling alley and skating rink and my Mom taughter water aerobics and senior stretch class called Stretching With Selma. Their resilience in the face of change and challenges has always inspired me.
These days, I have friends in their 70’s and 80’s, including Hannelore and Bob Goodwin who run Circle of Miracles (an interfaith spiritual community of which I am a part);  beloved mentor Yvonne Kaye, veteran radio talk show host, author, speaker, interfaith minister; Denny Daikeler; interior designer and writer who with another friend, minister and educator, Gary Culp create exquisite dance perfomances. He and his wife Jennifer moved from Pennsylvania to Mexico and run a  multi-cultural school for children of ex-pats. Jim Donovan (likely the youngest of the bunch), wrote a book called Don’t Let An Old Person Move Into Your Body, that speaks about the outdated ideas around aging and the ways in which we can maintain not only longevity, but quality of life.
These friends inspire this about to turn 54 year old, to live each day as outrageously as possible as I recognize my role as family matriarch and fellow WWWOW!
http://youtu.be/jQ15y_OZ9ns End Of The Line-by the Traveling Wilburys
www.graypanthers.org

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Renovation

 

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”-Meher Baba

My house is currently in renovation mode which began about a month ago with the redesigning of my bathroom, leading out in to the hallway with the refinishing and retreading of the spiral staircase  and then spreading out to repainting the living room and dining room. At the moment, the shelves and cabinets in my kitchen have been loosed from their moorings and  the contents are in the garage and aforementioned freshly painted living and dining rooms. Cooking in that torn apart room has been challenging with drywall dust and spackle scattered about like so much snow on a wind whipped around winter day. As fastidious as my contractor is about cleaning up at the end of the work day, the residual remains as a reminder that it is a work in progress. Bringing someone in to shake things up in your home is an act of faith. You and that person need to have a shared vision of what the finished product will look like. Fortunately, Mike and I do. He is more than a construction dude; he is an artist whose attention to detail impresses me mightily. He wants the outcome to be more than just ok, but rather a testimony to his craft. And it has been.

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He has also gifted me with two items that are now decorative features. One is  a little Buddha that he re-painted that sits on the bathroom sink, alongside an Om, a miniature Kwan Yin and a Ganesh plaque that can be seen beneath the glass sink bowl. The other is the butterfly on the wall in the first picture. He brought that to my home from a yard sale, since he knew my affinity for them and the connection with my mother who before she passed in 2010, had told me that she would come back as a butterfly.

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In the past few days I have come to realize how this process mirrors my own, as I have been excavating and renovating my life in so many ways. I have kicked up dust, knocked down walls, stripped the wallpaper covering off my surface, cleared out space, chosen new embellishments, gotten to my foundation in the same kind of trust mode that I have been doing with the structure of my house in which I have lived since 1993. I have needed to hold the vision of that which I too desire to create in my life.

Someone reminded me of an event that occurred 20 years ago yesterday that had totally slipped my mind until I realized the significance it held in my life and how this was perfect timing for the work on my physical and psychological havens. On August 24th of 1992, a tropical depression catalyzed into what I think was one of the most potent hurricanes up until that point. At the time, we lived in Homestead, Florida which was ground zero for Hurricane Andrew. In it, we lost many physical possessions, but not our faith. For me, it was strengthened and sustained and I look back in awe at not only what was lost, but what was gained as a result; a certainty that we would rebound. That we did, with the support of family, friends and wise decisions when it came to purchasing homeowners’ insurance.

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The hurricane left in its wake, soggily wet belongings and temporary tredpidation about gusty winds. What it also left were many of our spiritual items and a tall obilisque with the words May Peace Prevail On Earth in 4 languages….in our case English, Russian, Hebrew and animal paw prints. It survived the thrashing winds when implanted in a pot in the ground in our back yard when the fence that surrounded the yard was flattened. It came back up here with us and now is in the garden in my front yard as a potent reminder of resilience.

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I am eager to see how my house and I come together in re-creating ourselves to make us welcome havens for whoever traverses the welcome mat I have placed before them and  steps through our collective doorways

www.worldpeace.org

www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHFDa9efCQU Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin

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Innocence

How many people could look into the eyes of an infant and not see innocence? Conversely, how many look into our adult eyes through our adult eyes and see something less than whole and holy? I am raising my hand as acknowledgement of both of those experiences. I have been poring through boxes upon boxes of stuff that I brought back from my parent’s South Florida condo since my mom died and  coming up with treasures, some in the form of old photos. This cutie pie is yours truly, circa 1959.  At about 6 months old, I was a happy camper, delighted with life, exploring the world around me. Well  loved, secure, surrounded by adoring parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers, I hadn’t a care in the world. I didn’t yet know that my beloved maternal grandmother would die less than 4 years later, this 3rd parent who showered love and attention, fixing my hair in Shirley Temple curls. I called her Giggie, since I couldn’t pronounce anything even close to grandma or grandmom and the name stuck. She was one of the anchors of our family; a safe haven who my parents alway said had a money tree in the back yard since she also seemed to have what she and we needed in any eventuality. When my parents married, my dad moved into the house my mother was raised in and a year and a half after I was born, we all crossed the river from Philadelphia to Willingboro, NJ and moved into that new home where I lived until I was 18. Sadly, my grandmother had a stroke and passed a month or so after my 4th birthday. I sense that so much internalization of grief took place around that pivotal event, since shortly after that I was diagnosed with asthma. There are those who see a connection between grief and asthma and it makes sense to me. I felt sometimes as if my own life was ebbing away in the midst of asthma attacks.

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As I am doing a great deal of work, healing those sometimes fragmented parts of myself; the one who knows that ultimately all is well and love still enfolds me and the one who doubts that I will ever feel whole, I am called on to recognize my infinite innocence. If only I was certain of the first, casting out the second. That darn spiritual amnesia keeps kickin’ up dust. It’s then that I look into the trusting eyes of that little one and swear to protect her with all I’ve got, since she is the me yet to be. She is, in effect, my ancestor and I am her progeny.

I encourage you to find a photo of yourself at an age where you could truly feel your innocence and have a dialogue with that little one.

http://youtu.be/2rALVgdoMHk Return to Innocence by Enigma

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The Greatest

I was born to a father who was a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy and when my younger sister and I would fight, he would have us don boxing gloves, mouth pieces and head gear and have us go at it in the living room. We would swat at each other and laugh instead. I joke that it was a good thing that even then,  I was a pacifist, since I could have developed a mean right hook. As a mentor of sorts, who ran a Sunday morning breakfast club, he would also teach boxing to the kids at our synagogue. That being said, I’m not a big boxing fan, but I do admire the athleticism, endurance and discipline it takes to step into the ring and then step out of it  in one piece.  One of the most notable fighters of the modern era is Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. His entry into the sport began when, as a 12 year old, his bike was stolen. He was told by a local police officer that if he wanted to face whoever took it, he’d better learn how to fight. I don’t know if he ever got his wheels back, but that one pivotal event set him on a trajectory that gave him world wide notoriety, not only as a boxer, but as a social and political activist and philanthropist. He was a conscientious objector during the Viet Nam war which cost him his title and kept him out the ring for three years. His conversion to Islam, bringing about the name change, made waves.

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His current battle is with Parkinsons Disease, but he keeps on keepin’ on.

One thing that always impressed me about Ali was his steadfast belief in himself and his abilities. His line “I am the greatest!” initially sounded like arrogance to me when I heard him utter it while in my teens. Now, as an adult who coaches, counsels and encourages people to see their own greatness, it is a rallying cry. See, if Ali had said or even thought “Hey, maybe someday, I could sorta, kinda be a halfway decent boxer….”, what do you think the chances are that he could have stood up to Frazier, Liston, Foreman and Holmes? The thing is, not only did he have the bravado and the words, he had the skills to back them up. He acted ‘as if’ it were true and it became his chosen reality.

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Since retiring from boxing, he remains an active philanthropist, opening the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky and has also been an advocate for the Special Olympics and the Make a Wish Foundation. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing countries. In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He says:  “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given,” he said. “I believed in myself and I believe in the goodness of others,” said Ali. “Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.”

What greatness are you willing to proclaim to a waiting world?

http://youtu.be/nuJUulfBb8s Born For Greatness by Jana Stanfield

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