In Asia last fall people, old and young, said to me, as I hoisted my bags off and on trains and taxied across bad mountain passes, “My, you are strong (politely refraining from adding ‘for a little old lady’). I loved that more than I can adequately express—better than every other compliment in my life rolled into one.

Lately, I’ve not felt strong though. This ache…that pain. Getting in the way of this trip and that journey. Nothing serious but I have four major trips to go before I retire…No time for frailties, fragilities (or frugalities for that matter).

Just to be sure I’m ready for 2018’s big travel push, I’m making some doctors’ appointments, having a few tests, trying out new vitamins and meds, adopting new and better attitudes, and eating a lot of spinach. It’s tricky.

The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman. (Jonathan Swift)

I’ve selected the University of New Mexico Healthcare system as my home base. It accepts my insurance and it’s the closest thing available to universal healthcare.  With young doctors around it should be open to new ideas? And, supposedly, medical schools these days teach listening. I also like that almost all my records are in one system and all of the facilities in a compact geographic area.

My primary care doctor, in the UNM system, is actually a smart, personable, and attentive nurse practitioner. My other favorite doc, in private practice, is a rheumatologist who knows me when I walk in and listens to me before questioning, suggesting and prescribing. They’re both young and both make me feel confident and considered in their care. While I feel good about the knowledge and skills of the medical personnel throughout the UNM system, it’s not exactly personal even when they appear to be the nicest of people, and there are always those few docs who obviously finished their education before there were classes in listening.

It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions but hard to get one single remedy. (Chinese Proverb)

This was going to be a piece that, while praising my own doctors, complained about the cost and disconnectedness of the American healthcare system in general, and specifically from my own experiences seeking healthcare in what is one of the poorest states in the union. Too many of those whiny and/or shocking stories already.

Instead here’s a little trip down a Minnesota memory lane of American healthcare. Yes, of course, there are a million heartwarming stories of that revered character, the Country Doctor. They are among our folk heroes for good reason and I am old enough to have had the good fortune to know one.

When I was a kid, the Neset family doctor was Dr. Gordon Franklin. You know the story—he came to the house no matter the condition of the roads, for my measles, mom and bro Robert’s bronchial attacks, for bad flu cases and other maladies of farm family life. He took chickens for payment (not really, but that might have been faster than waiting for the $1s and the $5s and the $10s to dribble in over weeks or even months). He and Midge, his wife/nurse, were always kind, always soft-spoken, always there. My first paying gig was baby-sitting for the Franklins. Three small kids, nicely tucked in for the night when I arrived. Years later, when mom and dad had to leave the farm, mom gave or sold her sheep to Doc and Midge. She’d visit her old wooly buddies from time to time at the Franklin’s farm on the edge of town.

So here’s to the healthcare system we elders grew up with…sorry you missed it kids, then you’d know why, every now and then, you hear your grandparents mention doctors with notes of trust and awe in their voices.

Cornerstones of Northome remembered: Many of fond memories of Dr. Gordon and Marjorie Franklin, who died in a recent house fire. (By Audren Zimmerman on Mar. 1,2017 at 7:06pm)

Pictured are Dr. Gordon Franklin, and his wife, Marjorie at birthday celebration in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Parke)

NORTHOME — After a tragic house fire claimed the life of a two pillars of Northome, a community near and far has come together to share memories of Dr. Gordon Franklin, 96, and his wife, Marjorie (Midge) Franklin, 92.

The Franklins died in the fire at their house just outside of Northome on U.S. Highway 71 just after midnight on Wednesday, Feb. 22. A memorial service for the Franklins has been scheduled for 2 p.m. March 19 at the Northome Public School… “I can remember seeing him as a child as my doctor,” wrote Andrea Gross on Facebook. “He was always so kind and friendly. Truly a gem of our small town communities!”… So sorry for the loss of two wonderful people, I knew them as a child growing up in rural Northome. He took care of our whole family for years, delivered my nieces and nephews…“My last memories are of his vegetables at the farmers’ market. . . I now live in Ga. but will never forget my first Doctor and his wife the RN. May they rest in peace.”

A throwback to the “country doctors” of old, the Franklins were synonymous with health care in the Northome region for more than a half century…“They came to Northome in the summer of 1950 and my dad opened a doctor’s office there and then they built Northome Clinic,” said daughter Marcia Franklin…“My mom was involved in the clinic with my dad for years and then they recruited some people in partnership to help build the nursing home in Northome. My mother went from being an office nurse to being the administrator of the nursing home for eight years, until they sold it. “…The Franklins were cornerstones of the Northome community, many said, involved in many aspects of the town, from church to schools to the great outdoors…“My dad loved to farm and garden; they both did,” Marcia Franklin said. “He raised veggies and she raised flowers. They loved living in the northwoods and took full advantage of that….They loved the outdoors and did things like the Audubon (Society) Bird Count for years. My mom taught mushroom foraging for the extension service for years. We spent lots of time out in the woods.”…Marcia recalled how much her parents loved one another…“My mom was getting sick and would have to go to the nursing home soon and she worried so much about leaving my dad at home alone…“He felt so sad that he couldn’t take care of her anymore,” she said. “I think it’s good that they went together…. (From the Bemidji Pioneer)

Men who are occupied in the restoration of health to other men, by the joint exertion of skill and humanity, are above all the great of the earth. They even partake of divinity, since to preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create. (Voltaire)



I’m sad. Lately I can’t seem to write very much; in fact all manner of good blogging topics are scrawled in my notebooks but are not making it to here. The intent of this self-declared long weekend was to take a few days to reintroduce myself to writing, even to that book I’ve been off and on with for a couple of years, that book of travel tales from the 110 countries I’ve visited, that book that would be good if I could ever finish it.

I might be too sad to write—or do. Not depressed, as one of the many recent articles on suicide said, there’s a big difference between sadness and depression; the first condition has reasons, the second doesn’t need them. I am sad because of Anthony Bourdain, the American healthcare system, and most of all I’m sad because of Donald Trump.

I’m sad firstly because of Anthony Bourdain. I cannot let this one go. This person, this sadness. Bourdain cared about the world in the way I do. Overwhelming curiosity and a need to see around this corner, down that road—and to notice how interesting it all is. And how we’re all so beautifully different, and deep down pretty much identical. There was a quality of too-muchness about Bourdain and his life though. Which was all engaging and exciting for him and for us—until it wasn’t. Damn it.

Secondly, I’ve not felt well for awhile, but after much wrangling with the remarkably inefficient American healthcare system, I think I have the doctors and tests lined up to acquire the diagnosis for the necessary medications. This is likely nothing serious, but it’s cause for mild despair on a couple of fronts. What if, one day soon I, an insured elder, simply cannot see a doctor or get medicine—as is the case for thousands of Americans. And then there’s—what if I’m getting too old to feel well?

THIRDLY AND PRIMARILY, at the bottom, in the muck, of most present angst, sadness, hopelessness, and fear, slithers Donald Trump. Every now and then, there’s a piece that touches so directly on the real and present danger of our freely elected president that I cannot look away; a piece I cannot file in that black corner of my mind reserved for ‘fear and loathing of Trump’ and go on about my day. Today’s reminder of our dire situation is HuffPost’s “America Is Ground Zero For The Global Rise In Authoritarianism” by Richard North Patterson, author and columnist. Patterson gives us America as the follower, encourager, sometimes instigator of all that’s bad in the world, and unfortunately it’s not fake news. Even though I’ve never been a patriot in the generally ugly sense of the word, I guess, until recently, I still harbored the illusion we were more good than bad. Oh well…be sad.


Footnote: New Mexico does have it’s moments of ‘enchantment’ but overall it’s a place of endless sun. A sunny day is a good thing. Years of the sun seemingly determined to burn your soul to a crisp as your exterior crinkles and crumples to dust is not. But, yes I will continue living here where family, friends, work and all those countless small daily-life ties exist. And try to love this place again as I once did—instead of letting it add to my sadness.



According to George Clooney’s parents, their home is called ‘the house of too many pictures’ by the rest of the family. David Letterman visited there during his special with George and, yes indeed, there are pictures on the walls, on shelves and tables and…on the ceiling(s) of at least a room or two. These photos are not of their famous kid, in fact there are few of George, but rather of the whole family’s active lives and their friends and the wide world through which they traveled. Nick, George’s father, is a journalist so it makes sense that the entire globe is well-represented on these walls and ceilings.

Most of us are picture-takers of puppies and babies, of special occasions and scenic vacations; some of us take it further when we’re traveling, and even call ourselves photographers. We snap and click away, view and/or download the results and then…. We share those tiny smart phone images with our generally-unappreciative best friends, we email them to Grandma or, in order to cherish them forever, we file them on our laptops or in the Cloud. And sometimes we even look at them again.


MY photos are much too interesting to live lonely Cloud lives…so, like the Clooneys, I’m putting them on display. I started my ancestor wall a few years ago, but soon ran out of restoration-worthy photos of all those old Norwegians (and a Swede or two.) Meanwhile I was visiting the world’s most interesting highways and byways, railways and sea lanes, and taking a few thousand photos, even occasionally a brilliant, breathtaking, possibly unique view of here or there. How nice it would be, I often thought, to have my distinctive images, my significant memories of times and places, easily accessible to not only my mind’s eye but also to my actual squinty allergy-reddened blue eye. What to do?


The solution.Walls. They surround me with only a tasteful artwork or two—that one good piece by my favorite artist, that fascinatingly ugly mask from a Haitian road trip. But there’s so much more space on them. White space. Truthfully, I’ve never been a fan of white space in brochures, on websites…or on walls. Why not give those special pieces their own space in a quiet bedroom and cover the kitchen/dining/living room walls (actually all one big room but that’s apartment life for you) with my photos, those special photos from the 110 or so countries I’ve visited.


The Clooneys and I have a lot in common; my sons are roughly as good-looking as George, although unfortunately they did not listen to me when I told them to invest in tequila. And my ‘abode of too-many pictures’ will be just as interestingly cluttered with the fine memories of lives lived as their house. Not sure about the ceilings yet.

**In case you are curious, I scan old photos and email the older and the newer digital ones to Carr Imaging, where my friends Pat and Barbara brighten them up a bit or do more serious restoration for the oldest snapshots, and then print and mount them. Granddaughter Patricia, the artist in the family, comes over to place them on the walls. Voila! My life…being lived…so far.




I’ve just had a birthday. I’m only 79. Queen Elizabeth is 91, Ruth Ginsberg is 85, Gloria Steinem is 84, and Jane Fonda is 80. Thank god that old-old category has been moved up to 95. Therefore I (and Elizabeth, Ruth, Gloria, and Jane) still have many years to enjoy this final stage of middle-old-age. Actually that phrase ‘final stage’ isn’t exactly how I want to think of these years. Although—and here’s the dichotomy—I find satisfaction in doing some things ‘for the last time. Admittedly, there is an undercurrent of melancholy—but rarely downright sadness—that accompanies some last experiences, but everyday lasts, such as the following, are almost pain-free.

Goodbye first grade, menstruation, childbirth, first marriage and last lover, bad career choices (teaching middle school comes to mind). Checked Off. All Done. Fini. Good for Queen Elizabeth, skipping that teaching middle school gig. But she was in the army during WWII which was likely almost as bad.

There are a number of more mundane events that have already happened or soon will happen … for … the … last … time that I won’t miss at all… For example, I’ve purchased my last new car; my last raincoat (I live in New Mexico for god’s sake; my fancy REI rain suit could last four hundred years); my last skirt (actually did that about twenty years ago because I never liked dresses and frilly things anyway); I’ve danced a last time (also about twenty years ago…and I was drunk or I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself even then). I’ve eaten Mopani worm, deep fried cricket, rotted shark, and four and twenty blackbirds for the last times…and kale and broccoli are on a looking-forward-to-the-last-times list.

Then there are the lasts about which I’m feeling more than a little gloomy. Mostly involving family and travel. The number of activities I can fully share with my kids and grandkids are shrinking in number, both because of physical limitations and because I’m getting more sensitive to, or cranky about, everything from two wines to all noise.

Travel is where the last conundrum is most obvious though. For example last year…new car, trip over both new and familiar two-lanes with my beloved Minnesota at the end. Much of the way was pleasant enough, nothing even hinting at trouble or trauma, and yet, I’ve realized as time has passed, I do not want to take anymore long-distance solo (or probably, accompanied) road trips. I feel sad about that as being out on the highway, just me and my car and some Fig Newtons and the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack is…as I’ve said many times…as good as it gets. Not so much anymore though. It’s a loss.

Getting old(er) is the most bizarre travel experience of all. Time travel. I’m going to try to write my way through it, to note the good stuff, but also not to avoid the less-than-good. Like what’s happening to my body for example. I’ve decided to include a photo of some small piece of me with each post. A toe, a patch of thinning skin, a pretty white hair.


Also a quote since there are thousands, perhaps millions, of quotes about ageing. The following one nicely sums up this most disconcerting of experiences.

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. (Doris Lessing, The Sunday Times, May 10, 1992)

(Heading, Greenland 2016)


Time and Place (, another of my blogs, has just documented my recent trip around Southeast Asia and India. Here’s an aside.

There is some good news, women of the world. At some point in time—even when you’re much younger than I am now—you can travel the world without being regarded as a sex object, propositioned, touched inappropriately…or followed around the Egyptian Museum by a black-robed Arab gentleman whispering ‘I love you’ each time we crossed paths (a rather fond memory actually).

It is a time of invisibility. All of us experience it if we live into advanced middle age.

Now however I’m visible again…noticed and approached and questioned. Usually by men in fact. Especially when traveling. Sometimes it’s just an offer of assistance…’Can I put that in overhead for you?’, or ‘Please, sit here.’ Occasionally it’s a ‘Where are you from?’ (which in the bad old past might be a pick-up line—but now simply means ‘Most of the old women around here don’t wear jeans’)  Most often though the question of the day is… ‘How old are you?’

I should have kept a tally of how many times that question was asked on this trip. It was frequent and, oddly enough, always flattering. How could that possibly be flattering you ask? Because it was almost always said in a tone of wonderment and/or admiration. Remember I was traveling in Southeast Asia and India where life has traditionally been hard on everyone, not least on the elderly, and maybe especially on old women. So the wonder stems from the fact that few people my age are physically or economically well enough off to travel at all, much less to travel far.

The best part of course was a usual follow-up comment. ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m 78.’ ‘Oh my, you are strong.’ Every now and then someone has expressed admiration for something for which I’ve received credit—a good grade in school, a good dance program, a good Hummingbird cake. But I’m not sure any compliment has ever made me feel quite as good as the phrase ‘You are strong.’

Trust me when I tell you that there will be a time in your life when ‘You are strong’ will resonate in a way ‘You are smart, handsome, pretty, funny, wise…’; never has nor could because you don’t need it as much. But at a time when power in every life arena is on the verge of slipping away, you can still maintain some semblance of value by being strong—Ruth Ginsburg-strong.

The age question might be accompanied by ‘How come you are traveling alone?’ When I responded that it was the only way I could go exactly where I wanted, sometimes the questioner was admiring, sometimes maybe a little pitying. The fact that I still work was cause for further astonishment…or sympathy. There was a mini-conversation in India with one of the hotel staff who found it quite astonishing that I lived alone and wondered, since I had sons, why I didn’t live with them and cook for them. It was too hard to explain that they’re better cooks than I am—and what manly Indian male would have believed it anyway.

So never mind that eat/pray/love nonsense. Go to the gym…then go forth and be strong.


In  a land far far away…we decided it was our right to obliterate cities and countryside and people…

This blog, 78, is about age and ageing. About me being 78 years old. And sometimes about what of consequence has occurred during these 78 years. The Vietnam War for example…. Ken Burns documentary, The Vietnam War, has reminded me both of who I was in that time and place and how, all these decades later, I’m still really the same person and, sadly enough, my country is still the same country.

 The Vietnam War is, in my humble opinion, the most thoughtful, intelligent, informative and moving documentary ever made. I have been reliving the 30 years of my life backgrounded by that country and that war—and being reminded that while my life was personally rich and rewarding, what was happening in, to, and by my country was ugly beyond what most of us imagined.

In 1955 when Eisenhower sent the first military advisors to Vietnam I was a sophomore in Northome High School, Northome, Minnesota. In 1975 when Ford oversaw the very last of the American military to lift off from the broken land of Vietnam, I was the politicized, college-educated, divorcing, liberated mother of two sons.

While it seemed like a lot had taken place in my life, that was nothing compared to the fact that, during that same time, the US had inflicted irreparable wounds on itself and on  a country called Vietnam, deeper and bloodier than anything I was capable of truly understanding.

Now it is 42 years since those last Americans climbed aboard that helicopter, and I am 42-years older and presumably some measure wiser than back in that dark day. I am nevertheless shocked to my core regarding the serious history I had forgotten, never knew, or, if I knew, couldn’t comprehend the evil therein.

Here’s what eighteen hours with a diverse cast of participants reflecting every degree and depth of participation, every stance and understanding of the impact of the Vietnam War on the US and Vietnam, gave ‘citizen’ me—clearer history and deeper despair. For ‘personal’ me however there was also much that was good to remember—which I did with both guilt and nostalgia.

During those twenty years there was the ongoing pleasure of watching my sons grow into fine young people; an eager appreciation of the intellectual stimulation and political excitement of college life; and then there was my adventuring forth as an independent woman… (I am woman, hear me roar/In numbers too big to ignore/And I know too much to go back an’ pretend/’Cause I’ve heard it all before/And I’ve been down there on the floor/No one’s ever gonna keep me down again). Rich and rewarding years and certainly the best musical decades in history—all mingled with a  mantra of body counts and the whir and  pinging of helicopters and bullets.

 The single biggest takeaway from the doc for me? Rage. Ferocious rage. Over many ideas and events, but first and foremost directed at the Vietnam War’s Liars-in-Chief: And here we thought Trump was the lyingest SOB ever to occupy the White House…. Ken Burns reminded me that no one has bested Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhous Nixon as liars. And, while we agree that Trump has no knowledge of history or country, no moral compass by which to tell truth from lie, no bigger goals than self aggrandizement, we definitely expected better of LBJ, maybe even of Nixon—and what we got was worse—because they knew and even privately acknowledged the truth.

I had partially forgotten the full extent of the blatant bold-faced lies told day after day by Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger and their minions. Fairly early on the truth had started to emerge from the fear-mongering but those men never wavered with their face-saving fabrications no matter the numbers of dead, dying, wounded, men, women, children, US, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians. Never wavered, never once told the truth. (Although McNamara eventually made a stab at it.)  I try not to use the word ‘hate’ lightly, but yeah…I remember once again…I hated and hate them. I do not forgive them.

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where Have All the Flowers Gone (Pete Seeger)


The back of my hand…to give you ‘the back of my hand’ is a phrase of disrespect…on the other hand to ‘know someone or something ‘like the back of one’s hand’ is to have great and personal knowledge.

I have good news and bad news about mood stabilizers in pill form—medications often prescribed for individuals dealing with depression, bipolar disorder or traumatic life situations.

The good news is that we all will, sooner or later, have access to a state that, for some of us, is the greatest mood stabilizer in the world. It’s a state labeled variously as ageing, old age, elderly—in which we become seniors, elders, crones, grumpy old men and women, geriatrics, old fogeys… So I suppose we could say the inevitability of this stage of life might also be considered the bad news.

To be honest, for me, this state of being is somewhat discombobulating but not exactly bad. In fact I often talk about the several things I enjoy, even prefer, about being in this advanced-age category. Wisdom, patience, no longer giving a damn what people think, being able to retire after my student loans are paid off (sounds like a joke…is not a joke), the joy of observing…

My confusion lies in the fact that I miss the highs and even the lows of the past. The intense joys and concerns of motherhood; the thrill of a new love affair and the anguish of its demise; the exciting prospects of a new position and the big let-down when it turns out to be just another ordinary job. Remember all that?

 Wonderful things still happen in my life, some of them more exciting and rewarding than I could have imagined back in the day. But I never want to scream and giggle and skip around the block. I’m more aware of man’s inhumanity to man and yet I do not want to throw myself under a speeding bus or drink to oblivion. Every emotion has come to reside near the center line.

And, you know, it’s okay. I don’t always favor the middle ground—I want universal health care and I think religious people of all kinds and places are thought-free twits (mostly) and I always want to march (and rarely do) and I want to man the barricades (but I haven’t done that either) and…

But a middling view of life, middling emotions, middling abilities…not so bad…ah yes, but then again I do remember that moment in ‘72 with a new love…that first peer-down at the Sahara…that first reception with Black Sea caviar within view of the Eiffel Tower…that moment when I dipped a stick in flowing lava…that first glimpse of Scott and Steve and Teresa, the newborns…that first challenge by David Rusk to fix Albuquerque’s art/downtown life…that…well I could go on…

So the highs of those firsts have been transferred into pride in a most delightful and astounding family of siblings, kids and grandkids. And new travel adventures—what can easily compete with a bay of icebergs?—and once getting all the way up to a two-minute plank…you had to be there.

It’s all okay, especially with a nice wine…which I’ve just had. So get crazy and revel in this middling place!


Ageing. An inexorable and disconcerting process. Not bad exactly (except for the part about dying sooner) and not good exactly (although perhaps there’s a modicum more patience and perspective). I had a difficult passage turning 50; birthdays since have been low-key…acceptable…a reason to spend a week in San Diego being catered to by my eldest son. I think, however, that is about to change.

I am 78. Which means…soon…80.  A fact that appears to be sullying my usual sunny (just kidding) nature with just a touch of depression. It started a couple of weeks ago with the email from my former classmate, and the organizer of the class reunion, offering up the information that half of my 21 classmates have passed. Then the trip out to my old home place with the evidence that we—the house and me—are deteriorating at an increasingly rapid pace. That never makes me depressed in itself but combined with dead classmates and feeling achy in the chill of the Minnesota fall and the project I started yesterday—well, yeah, I admit to feeling melancholic today.

My aforementioned project is reviewing old diaries and journals from the 90s. The purpose is to find any travel tidbits to be used for the book and, almost more importantly, to start ridding myself of things that no one else in the family will wish to read, own, sell, or reminisce over. I’m perfectly (well, not perfectly…) healthy so while I am not projecting my eminent demise, it might be a good time to begin the tidying up of life.

Here’s the thing about the 90s—it was one hell of a difficult decade. My out-of-Albuquerque decade. My out-of-money decade. My constant-lack-of-resolve (to quit smoking, eating the wrong food, and leading a disorderly life) decade. Some of it was brilliant, for example living in San Francisco and then in San Diego near my grandchildren, and living near and being with my mom up north many of her last years. I did manage to acquire a Masters in Social Work and also survive several Minnesota winters with old cars and an ageing dog and cheap boots. I had a number of jobs, some of which were challenging and paid decently and I loved (Salvation Army homeless shelter/social worker at a nursing home) and some which were hideous (usually because I wasn’t very good at them and my bosses did not appropriately appreciate my inept good intentions).

What does any of the review and disposal of my-life-in-the-90s documentation have to do with my being depressed this cloudy Minnesota fall morning? I’m not sure…well, I am sure…it was long ago and far away and I’ll never have the time, strength, energy, desperation, or cojones to do it all again. I’m old now and I wasn’t then. That’s why.


What a confusing week. Am I old-old? Or merely oldish but vulnerable? Perhaps I am not any particular age—just a healthy mature person getting on with a most satisfying life. So which is it Marjorie?

In a few days I will leave for my 60th High School reunion in Northome, Minnesota—part of the reason for the road trip north. Per classmate communications, I’ve discovered that 10 of my 20 classmates have died. I pause as I write that today even though I’ve had the information for at least a week. It’s a reality that’s been floating through all of my thoughts, lurking just over my shoulder, interrupting my sleep—it is information I didn’t want.

Then, later this week, I learned one of my Albuquerque buddies of many years, who has been recovering from a ‘wrenched’ shoulder or back, is in a long-term care facility—temporarily a family member says but still…

All reasons enough for me to feel vulnerable. Actually I’m scared to death.

On the other hand, this is a week in which I’ve applied to reactivate my LMSW (licensed master social worker) license; submitted the applications for travel visas to Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal and India; and purchased a new car. I’m just remembering we live in an era of “fake news” so perhaps I’ll consider those sobering facts about classmates and friends and age to be “fake information.” With that thought in mind let me order an economy-size bottle of rejuvenating cream from Amazon and go out to dance the night away. Or at least stay up until 10pm.

Ageing has not been a bad passage so thank you my existentialist “gods” for life so far, and here’s a photo of my new car (even though it appears a Ford Focus is not enough to assuage my fear of ageing and death—possibly a Lexus would have done the trick?).

How Could I Not Be Among You? That is My Question.


The poem/book “How Could I Not Be Among You,” which I remember from college, turns out to be the topic for this second post of my 78th year. Oh dear…I just realized if I passed my 78th birthday, this is the beginning of my 79th year, which sounds scarily close to 80. The truth is that this birthday, this year—whether the 78th or 79th, is casting a slight but noticeable pall on my mood. It began just a few days ago on a pleasant drive with my California son; the ocean sparkled and the sun shone as we drove up the 5 to Los Angeles. We were looking forward to lunch and art, and talking of the future—travels and family gatherings…everyday things. Unbidden, into my consciousness leapt the realization, yet again, that I wouldn’t be around for many of these grand journeys and events. Pictures of Scott playing on the beach with his grandchildren; Scott and Steve and their children and grandchildren sitting down to Thanksgiving dinners; and Teresa, Steven, Patricia and Sara experiencing their own children, partners, dogs, careers, homes, and travel, scroll across my mind’s screen.  I am going to miss much of that. And, I ask the question, “How could I not be among you?” It makes me lonely.

Years ago the poet, Ted Rosenthal, wrote a book of poems about his impending death, after being given a diagnosis of leukemia with six months to live. His question, How could I not be among you? must be a common refrain for all of us contemplating life’s grand finale, whatever the circumstances. Being given a sentence of six months to live when you’re in your 30s is not at all the same as celebrating one’s 78th birthday you say. True or, at least, almost true. Every birthday is a death sentence of sorts; you just don’t notice it for a very long time.

I’ve decided to include lots of poems in this blog along with articles or excerpts from longer pieces when I find them. Here’s the first poem of many:

by Ted Rosenthal

Never yield a minute to despair, sloth, fantasy.
I say to you, you will face pain in your life…
It is not aimed at anyone
but it will come your way.
The wind sweeps over everyone.

 You will feel so all alone, abandoned,
come to see that life is brief,
And you will cry, “No, it cannot be so,”
but nothing will avail you.
I tell you never to yearn for the past.
Speak certain knowledge.
Your childhood is worthless.
Seek not ritual. There is no escape in Christmas.
Santa Claus will not ease your pain.
No fantasy will soothe you.

 You must bare your heart and expect nothing in return.
You must respond totally to nature.
You must return to your simple self.
I do not fool you. There lies no other path.
I have not forsaken you, but I cannot be among you all.
You are not alone
so long as you love your own simple selves.
Your natural hair, your skin, your graceful bodies,
your knowing eyes and your tears and tongues.

I stand before you all aching with truth

Trembling with desire to make you know.
Eat, sleep, and be serious about life.
To be serious is to be simple;
to be simple is to love.
Don’t wait another minute, make tracks, go home.
Admit you have some place to return to.
The bugs are crawling all over the earth, the sun shining over every one.
The rains are pounding, and the winds driving.
The breeze is gentle and the grass burns.
The earth is dusty. Go ankle deep in mud.

 Get tickled by the tall cattails.
Kick crazily into the burrs and prickles.
Rub your back against the bark, and go ahead, peel it.
Adore the sun.
O people, you are dying! Live while you can.
What can I say?
The blackbirds blow the bush.
Get glass in your feet if you must, but take off the shoes.
O heed me. There is pain all over!
There is continual suffering, and puking and coughing.
Don’t wait on it. It is stalking you.
Tear ass up the mountainside, duck into the mist.

 Roll among the wet daisies. Blow out your lungs
Among the dead dandelion fields.
But don’t delay, time is not on your side.
Soon you will be crying for the hurt, make speed.
Splash in the ocean,
leap in the snow.
Come on everybody! Love your neighbor,
Love your mother, love your lover,
love the man who just stands there staring.
But first, that’s all right, go ahead and cry.
Cry, cry, cry your heart out.
It’s love. It’s your only path.

 O people, I am so sorry.
Nothing can be hid.
No circle in the round.
It’s group theater,
no wings, no backstage, no leading act.
O, I am weeping, but it’s stage center for all of us.
Hide in the weeds, but come out naked.
Dance in the sand while lightning bands all around us.

 Step lightly, we’re walking home now.
The clouds take every shape.
We climb the boulders; there is no plateau.
We cross the stream and walk up the slope.
See, the hawk is diving.
The plain stretches out ahead,
then the hills, the valleys, the meadows.
Keep moving people. How could I not be among you?