Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dear Old Friends

The email from my dear friend Tim  a few mornings ago ended on a poignant note: "Dear dear dear dear friend -- take your vitamins!"

What had prompted this admonition was shocking: Ed Keifer, one of Tim's closest male friends for many years had died of cancer. Tim reflected back on all the holidays their families had shared, watching their children grow up together. The last time Tim saw Ed, who now lived on the East Coast while Tim is in Chicago, was last June at Tim's daughter Eliza's wedding. As they toasted the occasion together, Tim looked at his obviously ill old friend and knew that this might be one of the last times they would see each other. Still, Ed's death was a shock. Tim wrote to me, grief-stricken, with new awareness of his own mortality and a heightened fear of losing other old and treasured friends.

Our old friends -- who were children with us or college classmates or co-workers when our careers were new and our lives still so open to possibilities -- are ever more precious as we age. They understand us in ways that no one else can. They know where we've been. Who we are now. They know -- firsthand -- our life challenges and triumphs, sorrows and joys. And we know theirs.

Perhaps my oldest friend is Mary Laing Vaughn. We were babies together as our families moved into a newly built L.A. neighborhood shortly after the end of World War II. Our fathers were war veterans. Our mothers were newly stay-at-home moms after their wartime jobs ended. And we kids grew up as near siblings.  Mary and I celebrated my second birthday by eating the cake with our hands, grossing out the other party guest Sandy Gahan, who was a more sophisticated four-year-old. Mary and I played together, put on neighborhood shows and adored the Mouseketeers together. And even though we haven't seen each other in decades, we communicate by email, snail mail and occasionally by phone and it's as if we saw each other just yesterday.

       My 2nd birthday with Mary Laing (r) and a bemused Sandy Gahan (c)

             Mary (l), Diane Uglow (c) and I during childhood playtime

Mary, who lives in Pennsylvania and Florida, also sent me an email this week, telling me how sad she was to hear of former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello's death.

It was an interesting moment of the blending of our child selves and older selves: our young selves mourned an idol we adored together when we were children, someone who was an icon of graceful adolescence. Our older selves can't help but reflect on our own mortality even as we feel sad for Annette and her family.

This mixture of youth and aging is an inevitable part of our long-time friendships.

Bob's best high school friend Wellington Stanislaus (Stan) calls him "Rocky" -- an affectionate nickname only Bob's high school friends ever called him. Stan, who was a popular athlete in high school, befriended Bob when he was a shy newcomer to the school. He helped Bob get a succession of summer jobs at the Camp for the Junior Blind in Malibu during the last years of high school and the first years of college. These summers still have a special place in Bob's memory -- a time when he was doing work he loved, feeling that he was making a difference, particularly when teaching the campers music. He loved working side by side with Stan and the companionship of the other camp counselors. And he greatly admired the camp's director who had used much of his wealth to build and run the camp.

                                       Stan, a star athlete and stellar friend, in 1962

Stan's life since those idyllic summers has not been easy. He spent some years in a Catholic religious order and emerged -- as another friend of mine has -- in his later years underemployed and with scant Social Security benefits. Stan is strong in spirit, but his body has been frail. He works off and on as a cook, living alone in an apartment in Fresno, CA. But when they connect on the phone, Stan and Bob slip easily back into the friendship of their youth, seasoned by the wisdom and experience of age. No one but Stan knows first hand what those summers so long ago meant to young Bob. And an older Bob rarely fails to close a conversation with his old friend without telling him that he loves him.

Our old friends are irreplaceable. 

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't hear from a dear old friend. I see certain emails and they always make me smile.

There are the almost daily uplifting messages from my Hawaiian friend Jeanne Nishida Yagi, one of my most treasured and enduring friends from college. She has remained filled with faith and optimism even as she has endured recent back surgery and her husband Jimmy had heart surgery. They have been recovering both apart -- cared for by family members -- and, finally, together.  When I think of Jeanne, I remember the fun and challenging times we shared in college and also the unspoken depth of the friendship we still share.

                   Jeanne, a bridesmaid at my 1977 wedding, with me and our friend Jane Martin (r)

There are the fun and newsy ones from my childhood friend Pat Hill. Pat and I went from kindergarten through high school together. She stood up for me in grade school when other kids shunned me because my parents weren't married in the Catholic Church. She refused to attend parties when I wasn't invited. I marveled at her courage and loyalty then and now. We've seen each other through many challenges and many changes, including her battle with spasmodic dysphonia that make speech difficult until her surgery several years ago. Now she helps others with the disorder both individually and at conferences. And I'm looking forward to catching up with her face to face when we attend our 50th high school reunion together this coming weekend.

                                                         Pat Hill circa 1977

Pat at UCLA Voice Conference 2013

There are the wistful emails from my friend Dr. Chuck Wibbelsman, with whom I wrote several books, including the best-selling The Teenage Body Book. We have shared much more than simply a professional relationship. Once we were lovers and talked of marriage before he came to the then painful conclusion that he was gay. His initial coming out nearly 40 years ago was tempestuous and it was something that we shared, changing both our lives. We've since shared many major turning points in life -- from the joy of my wedding to Bob to the grief over the loss of Chuck's entire immediate family of origin. He currently lives in San Francisco with David, his companion of 34 years. Since I've moved to Arizona, Chuck and I have seen each other only once and miss the long talks over dinner we used to have so easily when I still lived in California.

                                                 Chuck with me at my wedding 

                                         Chuck with his beloved Aunt Angie in 2011  

There are cherished emails from my friend Sister Ramona, whose first year of teaching high school journalism was my senior year. That year launched a 50-year friendship that has been one of the joys of my life. Even though we don't get a chance to see much of each other -- she's now a counselor for students at Stanford University -- we keep in touch and our occasional dinners together are great fun -- and filled with her unique insights and witty observations.

When Bob and I were living together before we were married, I invited her over for dinner and Bob was aghast. "Does she know our situation??" he asked frantically. "What do I call her, for heaven's sake? I've never met a nun before. I mean, do I call her 'Your Majesty'?? Or what?? Oh, this is going to be terrible!" But it wasn't. Two minutes after she walked in the door, Sister Ramona had Bob laughing and she later came to our non-Catholic wedding in a spirit of joy and celebration.

Not long ago, Bob and I were discussing the meaning of success as well as who might be the most successful person we personally knew. He beat me to the obvious conclusion: Sister Ramona. "She has had such a lasting impact on so many lives," he said. "Hands down, she's the most successful human being I know." I smiled in agreement.

The fact that she is flying down to L.A. for the 50th reunion celebration next weekend is wonderful news!

                  Sister Ramona visiting when Bob and I were living in sin - 1976

There are the fun emails and periodic get-togethers with my high school friend Eileen Loubet Adams, who lives in Northern California, but who joins me for high school reunions at 4-5 year intervals (she was in the class behind me) and whom I see when she comes to visit her sister in Tucson. We laugh together as we remember lines from plays we did together in high school. And we have supported each other through some major challenges in our lives, mostly recently when her wonderful daughter Andrea, only 30, died suddenly of a congenital heart condition. We'll be roommates during my upcoming 50th reunion -- and also next year when Eileen celebrates her 50th!

                        In high school, Eileen (1) and me (r) with Cathy Casey (c) 

                                                         Eileen and me in 2011
Then there are the encouraging, loving emails from my friend Mary Breiner, whom I met more than 40 years ago when we both worked at 'TEEN. We shared so much when we were young -- dishing on romantic relationships that didn't work out and the emotional fallout of growing up in literary, but hard-drinking Irish families. We shared and accomplished our dreams of becoming psychotherapists. We also, in time, celebrated the relationships that worked -- my marriage to Bob, where she was maid of honor, and her marriage to John in 1985. We've also shared some of the challenges of aging -- John's health concerns among them -- and enjoy each other's calm reassurance, listening, caring and humor.

Mary and me in 1977

Mary and her husband John in 2012

And then there are the fun, sweet, and loving messages from Tim Schellhardt, my best friend from college with whom I've shared a close and loving friendship for 50 years as we segued from students to working journalists to writers facing all the issues of aging -- our weight, our cardio-fitness, our triumphs and our disappointments and, most lately, our mortality and fear of losing each other and the other people whose lives brighten our own.

               Tim and I in 1977 as he perused Bob's and my wedding album

                                                               Tim and I in 2012

The singular joy of long-time friendship was underscored recently when Sharon Hacker visited us from California.  She and her now ex-husband Steve were Bob's best friends during his first marriage to Sue.  After Bob and Sue divorced and I came into the picture, they were kind and welcoming and became my beloved friends, too. We greatly enjoyed watching their delightful children Brian and Carrie grow up to be talented, successful and caring adults. And, for the four days she was with us, it was so lovely to look back with laughter and fond memories and  somehow comforting to be looking ahead with hope, shared apprehension and a newly present sense of mortality -- together.

                                                  Sharon with Steve and Brian in 1976

                                           Sharon and Bob - 2013

Sharon grew reflective as she was leaving to return home. "Let's not let so much time pass between visits," she said. "At this stage of our lives....well, you never know."

Her words have resonated and made us resolve to be in closer touch more often with all of our old friends.

Now is an excellent time to contact a dear old friend.

Now is a great time to plan a visit to see and touch and simply be with each other.

Now is the time to tell a dear old friend how much he or she has meant to you in the past and means to you still.

Now is the time .... because love shared is never too soon or too frequent... and because you never know...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Connecting Across Generations

My first reaction was sadness, then a flicker of anger.

I was reading a recent New York Times opinion piece "Digital Era Redefining Etiquette" by Nick Bolton. This obviously young, rather self-important writer decried the rudeness of people who send emails or texts simply to say "Thank you." Or someone who leaves a voice mail instead of texting. "Don't these people realize they are wasting your time?" he asked with a hint of petulance.

He went on to say that he had ignored a dozen voice mails from his father because he just doesn't do voice mails. When his exasperated father called Nick's sister to complain that Nick wasn't returning his calls, she told him that "No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him."

He said that this taught his father a lesson and that "My mother realized this long ago. Now we communicate mostly through Twitter."

While I'm all for communication however people can manage it, it made me sad and angry to hear the "My way or the highway" tone of the piece and that someone would ever consider a word of thanks -- however sent -- a waste of time.

We need to honor each other's favored means of communication.

Our friend Sharon learned to text expertly in order to keep up with her two young adult children. And they are quick to call her (her preferred method of communication) and to visit her, at least in part because they feel she truly cares what's going on in their lives and has gone to the trouble to communicate their way -- and so they meet her half way.

There are advantages to all the various forms of communicating. There is a wonderful immediacy to texting and emails. Hearing the voice of a loved one on the phone is a special joy. Spending time face to face with a loved one is life enhancing. And a written letter via old-fashioned "snail mail" is beyond special.

After all, you can't treasure a text 50 years later.  I have a little box of letters that never fail to bring a smile to my face and, at times, a few tears.

There is the letter my friend and former teacher Sister Ramona Bascom wrote to me on my high school graduation day, telling me how much she valued both my friendship and my character and specifically what she valued in me as a person and her heartfelt wishes for a bright future. I have it still -- and it warms my heart every time I see it and remember how much her love and confidence in me meant when I was an adolescent and have continued to mean so much throughout my life.

There are the letters from my parents when I was in college, telling me how proud they were, how excited they were for my future, along with my father's cautionary advice to not let boys be a distraction from my studies and my career goals.

There are the two letters I found in Aunt Molly's nightstand after she died. Written ten years apart, they are long letters I wrote to her, telling her how much she meant to me, to my brother, sister and me, and the impact that her kindness and guidance and example as we were growing up had had on our lives.

One letter had been prompted by her surprise over my dedicating my Teenage Depression book to her with "To Aunt Molly, who gave me inspiration and hope in my teens and a lifetime of very special joy."

In my long letter to her, I told her very specifically how she had inspired me and given me hope during dark times. She said at the time that she intended to keep that book and that letter to read over and over during her own times of doubt and depression. The second letter, written in response to a phone conversation when she expressed regret about not being more in touch with her own aunts, now long deceased. And I wrote to her that she did the best she could, during a youth marred by becoming an orphan far too soon, by struggling to complete college at the height of the Great Depression and start her work life when the world was at war. And she agreed, saying she was going to keep that letter for re-reading, too. And she did. And now I have them back-- and they give me a certain peace even as I mourn the loss of this extraordinary aunt, knowing that I did let her know how much she meant to me, to us.

And there are some wonderful letters from Aunt Molly, filled with love and firm guidance ("Get down off your cross and get your sense of humor back!") and simply inspired writing. The last one I have from her in my little memory box was posted on the day of her sudden death from a heart attack. It was a thank you note -- one of hundreds she sent to us during her life -- filled with gratitude for the festive Christmas we all had spent together, one lovely last holiday we enjoyed with our beloved aunt.

I love to hold the letters, trace the cursive writing -- that generation had such great penmanship -- and feel a connection once more.

Of course, times change.  I just got an email from Sister Ramona -- who is now working as a student counselor at Stanford University -- telling me that she is coming to my 50th reunion next weekend and would love to get together for dinner afterward. She gave me her cell phone number. And so we change with the times.

But saying "Thank you" or "I appreciate your kindness" or "I love you!" by whatever means you prefer never goes out of style.

It's important that we value messages from loved ones whether they are Twittered or texted or emailed or come by phone or snail mail.

These connections between people who care, whatever form they take, are to be treasured.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unforgettable Untold Stories

The Untold Stories challenge in Rosaria Williams' sixtyfivewhatnow.blogspot.com blog intrigues me. She challenges fellow bloggers to share the tales of ordinary people living their lives without the pomp and glamour of celebrity culture, without the extravagant wealth of the 1% and without the dark drama of the criminals we hear about on the evening news.

What are some of the stories that have a wealth of courage and sadness and hardship and hope that will never make the news? All of us know such stories. Maybe we have lived them ourselves. Maybe in our work lives and our personal lives we have encountered people who will never be famous in the media and the world at large, but who are nevertheless unforgettable. I've met many such memorable people, but when Rosaria issued her challenge, there were three who immediately came to mind.

There is Angie, the world's greatest waitress, who came to me for therapy shortly before I retired. She is a lively, still pretty blonde woman who looks -- truly --30 years younger than her 79 years. She loved her job working at an upscale Los Angeles area steakhouse for 44 years. Her customers were like family to her and she was thrilled to serve customer families for generations, enjoying the grandchildren of the children she had once befriended.

Despite her modest pay, Angie was frugal, saving enough money to buy herself a small mobile home and a dependable car. Even uterine cancer, when she was in her fifites, didn't slow her down. She loved her work. She loved her customers. She couldn't imagine retiring, often saying that she hoped she would simply drop in her tracks one day -- after a shift. She marveled at her good fortune in finding a place where she could belong -- and work as long as she liked.

But her good fortune screeched to a halt when the restaurant owner died and no one in his family wanted to keep it going. It was sold to an investment group that changed it into a somewhat upscale version of Hooters, featuring lithesome young wait staff in skimpy costumes. And, despite her attractiveness and fitness for her age, Angie didn't fit the new profile. She was fired.

And though she has been contesting her firing and filing suit against the new owners, Angie is facing some tough new realities: despite her efforts to get a new job, she's finding that no one seems to want a 79-year-old waitress, no matter how experienced, efficient and delightful she is. And, because her Social Security payments -- even working past 70 -- are firmly in the mid-three figure range, Angie can't live solely on her benefits. She is doing what seems to be the best option: opening her second bedroom for rent to a disabled stranger for whom she will care. And the rent and caregiving fees will allow her to get by -- for now. But she worries about the future. She never married or had children. She was an only child. Her two closest friends have died. She wonders what will happen when she can't be a caregiver any more? What will happen when she needs care? But most days, Angie faces the day with a smile, an earthy sense of humor and hope -- that she will be able to get even a part-time waitressing job, that her health will hold up, that somehow life will go on with all its challenges and the joy of giving to others.

There is my friend Joe, who was a Catholic monk for many years. He left the religious life -- which he had entered when he was a 13-year-old aspirant -- when he was in his early 50's. For a while, life was good. He taught at Catholic high schools. He got a graduate degree in psychology and work as a school counselor. Then his mother, back on the East Coast, became ill and he went home to care for her during this last illness.

After her death several years later, he found himself depressed, rootless, unable to find another teaching job. He returned to California and, still applying for teaching positions, worked at Home Depot. But he was laid off when the company was cutting back in the height of the recession. And he now subsists on meager Social Security benefits from his 15 years as a lay teacher and counselor (since his many years of teaching as a member of his Catholic religious order were not counted or paid into Social Security).

This means that he sometimes stays with friends during cold, stormy nights and sleeps in parks or in his aging car during more clement weather. But he tells me that he is happy with his life most of the time. Yes, there are times of sadness when he thinks back on the great satisfaction he found in teaching and his disappointment at not being able to continue to work in that field. But he says that his life still feels meaningful because not a day goes by that he doesn't find an opportunity for a random act of kindness. Sometimes, this means talking with and listening to a depressed teenager slumped against a tree in the park where he spends most of his days. Sometimes it means sharing the wealth of a found coin or money given by a friend or stranger with another homeless person who may be as hungry as he. And he says he finds joy living in the moment -- feeling gratitude for sunshine, for life itself, for having had, in his own estimation, so many blessings all his life.

There is my sister Tai, who is 57 and a divorced single parent. Tai works as a nurse in the Seattle area, where she has lived for nearly 30 years. She yearns to move back to Los Angeles, but she is currently under water with her condo, which she purchased at the height of the housing bubble in 2005. So she continues to work 12-hour overnight shifts as a labor and delivery nurse at a public hospital. The work has been particularly tough this past year when she began to suffer back pain and gastro-intestinal distress. After extensive tests, doctors suggested that her symptoms might be stress-related. And that didn't seem unreasonable.

However, despite her efforts to meditate and to let go of a myriad of daily stresses, her symptoms grew worse. This past week, she wasn't able to keep food down. Her weight plummeted. When she was about to clock out of work on Friday morning, a co-worker who is also a close friend urged her to go to the Emergency Room. When she did, doctors found her potassium level dangerously low and her gallbladder filled with stones. After a day of IV's, she was rushed into surgery Friday night. Now she is recovering at home, amazed that all of her symptoms, including her back pain, have vanished with the removal of her gall bladder.

But there are worries: there is no light duty in her department. If she can't move a 300 pound patient onto a gurney to take her to the delivery room, she can't work, which means that she will have to be off work longer than someone with an office job. She lives in a state with no state disability benefits. She has only one day of sick leave left. Her daughter felt alone and distraught, suffering panic attacks, as her mother faced surgery. But then my sister's ex-husband, who is a nurse in the same hospital, rallied to their side, caring for their daughter and my sister in a way she said he never had when they were still married. She shrugged off my offers to fly up to Seattle and help. "I'll be fine," she said. "I'm eating. I'm not in terrible pain. I'm home. I have a job to go back to whenever the doctor releases me to work. I just have to take it easy and heal."

Tai's fighting spirit serves her well. I thought back to the rough times she experienced growing up in our dysfunctional home and the pain of marriages that didn't work, her education interrupted when survival had to be her top priority. There were the hard, unsatisfying jobs and then, when she was 37, a life-threatening aneurysm that required emergency brain surgery and a long recovery, during which time her second husband left her. Somehow she survived. Somehow she managed to care for her toddler, enroll in a community college and work as a nurse's aide, eventually being admitted to the college's registered nursing program. Those were incredibly tough years. I don't know how she managed. But she did it, becoming a dedicated and accomplished labor and delivery nurse. She loves her work. She is dedicated to her patients. Only her two closest friends on her shift last Thursday realized that anything was amiss. The rest -- other nurses, doctors and patients -- had no idea that she was ill and in pain. When challenges come up, she just deals with them and then goes on.

My sister Tai

These are just three people I know who are living real world lives with challenges and with little or no safety net. There are many other stories I could tell.

There are, to be sure, people who have had even harder lives. There are people who are having hard times financially AND have no insurance and who are also in poor health, people who have to choose between food and essential medications, people who were once middle class who have slipped into poverty. There are people who have always been poor and have never known a moment of life without hardship and struggle.

And yet, there are small triumphs of the spirit.

There was the man I used to see every day who slept and also spent his days on a certain street corner in West Los Angeles, who greeted all passersby with a smile and a "Have a blessed day!" while never asking for anything.

There was Diana, a bright and gentle soul who was a patient of mine some years ago. Despite a shocking and tragic personal history over which she agonized and shed many tears in our time together,  her warmth, humor and intelligence made her unforgettable.

And there is Phyllis, my friend and neighbor, who is getting chemotherapy for her advanced cancer and kidney dialysis due to kidney failure. She is frail and bruised. She has lost the use of most of her left arm because of dialysis and now her right arm is being surgically prepped for use in dialysis. There are times when she is in pain and scared and depressed. But her joy in living and fierce will to live prevail -- and she lives a very full life with her husband, her dogs, her children and grandchildren and her many friends. And she still keeps up on all the latest news of the neighborhood and is a formidable presence at Mah Jong.

Phyllis and my cat Hammie visiting

There are, in short, so many heroes among us: people who work hard, obey the law, find ways to survive without much money or connections or privilege. There are people who remain unbroken through crises and ordeals that may be the stuff of our personal nightmares.

The stories of these extraordinary ordinary people aren't neat or relentlessly uplifting. There are no sure-fire happy endings. There are ragged ups and downs and uncertainties marking their days. Angie the waitress is still unemployed as is my friend Joe who also is still largely homeless. My sister Tai is recovering well from her surgery, but I know she worries about the toll that her illness and recovery will take on her income. And what ails Phyllis isn't curable. She isn't going to get well. She will be getting chemotherapy and dialysis for the rest of her life. But she is alive and finding precious moments of joy in her life.

The Hollywood happy ending, indeed, will always be elusive for most of us.

Most people will never have the money or fame that the puzzlingly ubiquitous Kardashians enjoy. Most of us won't be headliners on The Evening News or the front of The New York Times. There are many people whose lifetime earnings may be less than a single year-end bonus of a Wall Street bankster.

But most of us don't dream of great wealth or power or fame as a life goal. For most of us, our homes and lives and dreams are modest.

But everyone has a story....and some of these untold stories are truly unforgettable.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Retirement: The Third Anniversary

It was three years ago today that I left my office at UCLA Medical Center for the last time.

It seemed surreal, unbelievable. No more long hours on the commuter bus. No more increasingly tedious days at the office. No more office politics. After so many years of working multiple jobs -- a full-time job and two part-time jobs -- my time was my own.

It didn't really sink in at first. For the first few weeks as my husband and I packed up the last of our belongings and our three cats and headed for our new home in Arizona, it all seemed like a wonderful long vacation.

That first glorious spring and summer, as we spent long, languid afternoons in the community pool with our neighbors, was a dream come true.

Little by little, though, real life intervened. There were health problems. There were limitations -- as my cranky arthritic knees and feet balked at tap dancing. There were ups and downs. We went from being delighted by all our neighbors to caring deeply about some and actually disliking others -- just as in our previous neighborhood.

As time went on, I found there were people -- back at the office and among my California friends -- whom I missed very much. When I got an emergency call from a former patient who just needed some reassurance, I found that I missed -- at least for a moment -- the chance to help make a difference in other's lives.

There have been times when I've missed the convenience of Valencia -- with everything from great restaurants to movie theaters and shopping -- not more than five minutes away. And there have been times when, despite living in my absolute dream house, I've missed that little house that was home for 29 years with its green, tree-filled yard and the sound of the waterfall we named "Molly's Falls".

But most days I am filled with gratitude that we were able to retire at all. There are days I marvel at the spaciousness of our new home and the vastness of Arizona skies and the abundant sunshine. I love being part of a small community. Just this morning, as Bob and I were sawing and cleaning up a large tree limb that was torn from the tree in our front yard by a violent windstorm last night, workers from the Town of Florence drove by and abruptly stopped, offering help and loading the limb onto their truck. Larry, a neighbor from across the street, rushed over with his trash can to help pick up other debris blown into our yard. And our friend and neighbor Phyllis called while she was having kidney dialysis just to check on us and make sure all was well.

Life is quite different now. The exhausting grind that the last years of my working life had become is now a faint memory. And the dreamy, long vacation is over, too. What has replaced both is daily life in retirement. It's no longer a novelty. But it's always a joy.

I often think of Aunt Molly's retirement mantra that she used to say every morning when she woke up: "Today is mine!"

Today is mine, indeed. And with it comes opportunities to make a difference to others in new and different ways. With it comes the blessing of doing meaningful work and, at times, enjoying doing nothing at all.

At my third retirement anniversary, I find that I never take my new freedom for granted.

I still love waking up to my own internal clock instead of the insistent alarm. I still love planning days filled with work and fun and exercise and friendship. I thoroughly enjoy experiencing all the seasons of the year after so many years of leaving for work in the dark and arriving home in the dark.

I've learned to stop watching the clock as I talk with a loved one or pet one of my cats or read a book from cover to cover or immerse myself in music I love.

I've never stopped being grateful for the blessing of retirement and waking up each day to the reality that today is, indeed, mine.