Friday, June 30, 2017

A lesson from a life cut short too soon.

I wasn't planning on writing today, but something happened that I needed to share.

Lately I've been on a kick of letting people from my past know that their actions affected me in a positive way. I've reached out to a former teacher, a camp counselor, and some co-workers from a long time ago to let them know how their encouragement and kind words really helped me at an integral times in my life.  It occurred to me that many of these people had no idea of the profound effect they had in my life and I realized that if I had helped someone out in this way I certainly would want to know.

So I reached out to someone recently and today I received a letter back. I can honestly say that it is one of the most tragic things I have ever read in my life and it really shook me out of whatever state I was in and brought each moment since into extremely sharp focus.  To explain:

Thirty-three years ago I was 14 and had a huge crush on a somewhat well-known actor. His name was Timothy Patrick Murphy. Do you remember him? He had a few small roles on some nighttime dramas in the 80s, including Dallas, and I was a huge fan.  Take a look at this picture and you'll see


Pretty cute, huh?

Anyway, every summer my mom used to take us kids to a taping of the local entertainment show called AM Philadelphia.  We used to love going and seeing all of the behind the scenes activity that went on and watching the hosts and celebrities joke around during the commercial breaks.  Well that summer we went to a show and while I cannot remember who was the guest that day, they did a promo for the following day's show and guess who was going to be on?! My favorite favorite actor crush Timothy Patrick Murphy himself!! I got extraordinarily excited, immediately turned to my mother and asked, "Can we pleeeease come back tomorrow to see him? I LOVE HIM!!!"  God bless my wonderful mother she agreed and I was over the moon with excitement.

The next day we got up bright and early again and headed downtown for the taping.  To our surprise there was a huge line outside the studio.  We had never seen this kind of thing before and I couldn't imagine that all of these people were there to see my favorite not-so-well-known actor guy.  Well, it turned out that they were all in line to see a little local band called "The Hooters" who were big in Philadelphia and who were about to explode both nationally and internationally within the year.  Kudos to my mother again, who went up to the person manning the door and let him know unequivocally that we knew one of the producers of the show, which was true!  The bouncer guy went and got the guy we knew, he ushered us past the throngs of fans to our very own special seats in the audience, where we sat expectantly for the show to begin.

As we sat there I was going on and on about how excited I was to see my all-time favorite actor, and after a few minutes of that teenage girl blathering the woman in front of us turned around to say, "Are you a fan of Timothy Patrick Murphy?" I have no idea what I responded back but you can be sure that there was plenty of gushing involved.  She listened and smiled and nodded and when I was finished she said, "Oh that's wonderful, I'm his mother."  Again I launched into how much I adored him, how I had seen everything he was in and how I was no doubt his biggest fan.  She kept smiling and then asked me to write down my address and she'd send me some pictures.

Needless to say I was overjoyed at this as I scribbled my address down on the card from my mother's tissue packet.  I assumed she was just being nice and didn't expect it to go any further than that. I actually completely forgot about it after returning home from the show, where along with my crush I got to see The Hooters perform their original version (and far better in my opinion than the one they released for the radio) of "All You Zombies" and "Fightin' on the Same Side.

(P.S. From that moment on, and to this day, I am a huge fan of The Hooters.)

Anyway, after seeing TPM do his segment, where he was charming and gentlemanly and even pointed out his mother in the audience, we went home, where I'm guessing I was glowing for days after that fun and exciting experience.

To my amazement, about three weeks later I got a package in the mail. It contained several autographed photos - one specifically autographed to me, see above - and a lovely note from TPM's mother, saying how nice it was to meet me and that she just had to send me some photos because I was so sweet.

WOW!!!!!!  What a tremendous moment in my otherwise angst-filled teenaged life!!

The personalized photo was immediately framed and hung on my bedroom wall.  I subsequently took it to college with me and it has been in every home I have lived in since.  I also still have the other photos and the note, and they have been a wonderful reminder through the years of the kindness of others and that unexpected joys are possible.

Four years later my beloved TPM passed away at the age of 29.  I couldn't believe it at first - he was so young and in good shape and enjoying success living out his dream of being a working actor.  I couldn't help but think that he could have become more famous had he had more time.

Years passed and often I would think about his short life and how incredibly kind his mother had been to me.  She didn't have to do what she did and it was such a supremely generous act of kindness. I have never forgotten it (especially since that particular time in my life was rife with stress, anxiety, and often crippling self-doubt) and all of these years later I thought that I would send her a note to let her know how much her consideration and benevolence meant to me.

I started searching for her online, remembering her name and the town in which she had lived, and in my searching I found out some horrible news.  Not only did she lose her first son at 29, but she also lost another son, Patrick Sean Murphy at the age of 36 in the September 11th attacks.

Unbelievable.  How does a mother deal with the sudden deaths of 2 sons?  2?!

Anyway, I wrote her a note, expressing my thanks for her kindness, letting her know how much it meant to me all those years ago, and also letting her know how fondly I remembered her first-born even to this day.  I offered her my condolences on the loss of her other son and suggested that she had 2 very special angels watching over her in her life.

I did not expect to hear back from her but felt glad that I could at least articulate my gratitude toward her all of these years later.  You can imagine how thrilled and amazed I was to find a letter from her address in my mailbox today!

I opened it carefully and started reading. It was from her husband Thomas, whom I had not met, and he thanked me profusely for my letter, so appreciative that his sons were being remembered across the country from someone he had never even known.  Yay!

My initial glee stopped there. He went on to tell me that his wife was currently wheelchair-bound, suffering from dementia, and was unable to understand my letter but that he gladly shared it among other family members. He then let me know that in addition to losing both of his sons, his remaining son Sam was in the final stages of ALS.

WHAT?!! Seriously?! This was incomprehensible. I mean, how much heartache and pain can one family take?  I began crying as I read the letter the second time, and kept on crying through the third and fourth times.  I just can't seem to get my head around what this family has had to go through in their lives.   I know there's no point in asking "why," there's just me shaking my head in disbelief and incredulity. I can only hope that I was able to bring a tiny bit of joy and light to even a moment of this man's day.

Receiving this letter threw into sharp relief how inconsequential and downright senseless my current little gripes and annoyances are. While I am by no means unhappy right now, there are some things lately that I've allowed to bug me and have cast a bit of a shadow over my daily goings on. This made me realize once again the impermanence of life and how very very important it is to go after the things that will fulfill us, to not go on waiting for another time to do so, and to appreciate all of life's blessings while we still have them.  Simple stuff, but I clearly needed a reminder.

Here's what I really wanted to share; the point of all of this rambling:

1. Enjoy your life.  Period.  Forget about your little annoyances and troubles and focus on the big picture of what's going right in your life.  Don't sweat the small stuff because it is indeed all small stuff.

2. Don't put off doing anything that you want to do.  Just don't. Life is short, opportunities are to be grabbed when they happen and constructed when they are taking their time.

3. SAY THANK YOU TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE HELPED YOU! Expressing appreciation can go miles in improving someone's outlook. And if it takes some time and effort to track them down, DO IT!  It's worth it for you, it's worth it for them, and it helps make the world a kinder and more civilized place.

4. Stop complaining.  You think you have it tough? Take a look at the Murphy family and "kwitcherbellyakin."

Lastly, hug your loved ones, count your blessings, and appreciate all of the wonderful things that life has to offer.

"I love you and I don't want to lose you." - Timothy Patrick Murphy as Chip in "Glitter."

Dear Tim, we didn't want to lose you either.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Close the door

You know how people always say to keep the doors open in case opportunity comes a-knockin'? I believe this 100%.  People will also say things like "When one door closes, another opens." To this I say, "Hear hear!" It's always important to seek out open doors, and if they won't open of their own accord, we can feel free to do whatever it takes to open them ourselves. I believe that we should always look for the open doors in life because what lies behind them is often more wonderful and glorious than we could have imagined.


Except for when it's more beneficial and important to close the door. And by this I mean, when we're faced with a big decision, or when we're dealing with an issue in our lives, it can help immensely to close the door and go inside to feel and hear what our gut is saying.  Outside the door there can be many well-meaning family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers, who will offer their unsolicited advice to "help" us in our times of indecision and need.  And by well-meaning I mean serving their own interests and trying to get us to do what will benefit them the most.  The things that these people tend to say can usually be classified as mean, nasty, selfish, self-serving, and cruel.  In those cases we have every right to close the door on them and their uninvited comments.  We can shut out the noise and the hubbub and look within for the answer.  Our gut always knows best, we just need to be quiet and alone enough to hear it.

In one particular situation with regard to taking the next step in a relationship, I had to make a very important decision.  Everyone, and I mean everyone had an opinion about what I should do.  (And in some cases, what I simply had to do or else I would never be happy.  These people felt that there really wasn't a choice involved at all.) I can remember very clearly standing in my apartment, looking at the front door which led directly to the outside.  The door was closed and I was alone.  I sat down, closed my eyes and pictured the closed door.  I then pictured what it would be like with just me, living my life, here in my apartment, without anyone else's opinions or diatribes living here with me.  It felt nice.  Quiet.  Peaceful.  Content.  Then I pictured having my boyfriend here in the apartment with me. The front door is closed. No well-meaning people are giving us their opinions on what we should be doing.  He's sitting next to me on the couch with his arm around me. How did I feel? Elated. Exuberant. Overwhelmingly happy, along with Quiet, Peaceful, and Content.  I realized in that moment that no matter what anyone else thought of me or told me about myself, THIS WAS MY LIFE, NOT THEIRS!  And it wasn't until I consciously closed the door on all of them that I was able to truly realize that.

What does your life look like when the door to the outside is closed? How do you want to be spending your time? Whom do you want in there with you, if anyone?

This "closing the door on the outside world" concept applies to any decision, be it a business venture, a creative endeavor, or a personal lifestyle choice.  As Steve Jobs famously said:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking.  Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Don't waste it living someone else's life.  We all know in our hearts what we want to do, it's when we close the door on our own thoughts and feelings by putting stock to other people's opinions that we become shaky and indecisive.  And who the heck are these people who are trying to influence us anyway? Do we trust their opinions? Are they worth our time to invest in what they are saying?

Truthfully, usually not.  I spent time with a relative's coworker once when I was on a visit and this person did not know me nor my boyfriend (who became my husband, see above).  This stranger to me had her very limited viewpoints of what was right and proper and acceptable in her world according to her terms.  Anyone who strayed from those opinions was wrong and she wasted no time in telling me so. Why did she feel the need to do that? What difference did it make to her how I was living my life and who I was dating? We should have been completely inconsequential to her but she felt the overwhelming need to voice her disdain for us and our relationship.  Luckily I chose not to take her comments to heart, and to this day I have no idea why she felt so strongly about putting us down. But I recently learned what happened to this woman: embroiled in a bitter divorce with 2 young kids, the second one brought about in a futile attempt to save the marriage.  Her "perfect" world came crashing down around her and she got a new perspective on how things that she thought were a given actually weren't.  A great example of how karma is real and doesn't discern.

All this to say, yes, by all means, go through every door that is opened to you.  But don't be afraid to close the ones that are getting in your way.

Never dull your shine

...for somebody else.  Period. End of Sentence.

(or, Renounce the Dream Spitters Part II)

I first heard this phrase from Tyra Banks and I love it SO much!  Everyone is born with a light inside of them and I believe that every person's true purpose is to shine that light into the world.  Some of us choose to dull that shine and cover it over with mud or armor based on negative things we've heard from others.  Many people feel that a person's light can be too bright, and is therefore threatening or intimidating to others and so in those other people's opinions, that light needs to be dimmed or hidden or concealed.  But as much as we want to blame other people for dulling our shine, we ultimately do it to ourselves. No one truly has the power to darken our light except us.

This goes along with living in the present and letting go of the people in your life who do not raise you up and support you.  When I've talked before about relinquishing relationships that no longer align with your current purpose in life I've been met with some backlash. "But we've been friends for 30 years!" They'll say. Or "What about honoring the history we have together?" To which I would respond, "Are you still using anything purposeful from 30 years ago when you first met? A phone attached to the wall with a curly cord coming out of the receiver? A hot pink jacket with oversized white buttons and big shoulder pads? A cassette tape player? Yes, there's definitely something nostalgic about these things and those friends we had back then.  But if the friend's values and attitudes no longer line up with yours then there is no place for them in your lives. They belong with the outdated appliances and methods of doing things.

And that's okay.

So many of us are reluctant to let go of people we've known for a long time because they are a connection to the past.  I understand that, but along with the happy memories they also have to provide you with present day joy and support.  Just because someone was a friend to you during a particular season in your life when you may have particularly needed them and what they had to offer you at the time, doesn't mean that they are meant to be a friend for the rest of your life.  Essentially it doesn't matter what they might have done for you in the past, if they are not there for you the way you need them to be NOW, then they are not worth holding on to.

Remember those Dream Spitters I was talking about? So many of them are from our past, who knew us a certain way and then when we changed our habits, beliefs, and programming, they couldn't understand it and felt the need to undermine what their own brains couldn't process.  When I first moved away from my hometown there were some people who couldn't imagine that I would do such a thing. They had lived there for their entire lives, their parents and grandparents had lived there forever, and therefore they had no vision of ever venturing out past their familiar ground.  Because they were unable to see my point of view, they were likewise unable to give encouragement or be happy for me and my own choices.

As I'm thinking about this, I'm realizing that throughout my life there have been many many people who didn't "get" me.  My way of thinking, my sense of humor, my core belief system, and my outlook on life overall.  In continuing to think about it, I'm realizing that things like my way of thinking, my sense of humor, my core belief system, and my outlook on life overall have changed significantly (and in some cases quite drastically) over the years.  Because of the choices I have made I can honestly say that I am a radically different person now than I was in my 30s, the person I was in my 30s was very different from the person I was in my 20s, and the person I was in my 20s was somewhat different from the person I was as as teen and child.  Most people change throughout their lives, some more notably than others, and there is no guarantee that the people in your life will change the same way or at the same rate that you do. Hopefully you will all be able to support each other through all of the changes but not everyone will be able to do that.

And that's okay too.

No matter where you are in life, if there are people in your life who do not support your decisions and the way you choose to life the precious life you were given, then they do not need one more moment of your time and effort.  Love and friendship are supposed to be positive and feel good. They should help to alleviate stress, not be the cause.  If people don't "get" you, then find the people that do.  Remember that some people are meant to be in your life for a season, not a lifetime.  Above all, remember that no one has the right to dull your shine, and you have no right to let them.

"If a person closes the curtains to block out a blazing sun, that has no effect whatsoever on the sun that keeps on shining and fulfilling its glorious purpose."  - Rachel Cole

Don't let someone else's curtains block your light.  You're better off leaving them in the dark.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Out of the mouths of babes...

...although I'm not sure if it counts as a babe if it's my 18 year old daughter.  Well, she's MY babe, as in baby, so I guess that works.

Anyway, had a very edifying conversation with said daughter a few days ago and even though it was shorter than 5 minutes it created a paradigm shift in my head that I'm hoping will last forever.

We were packing for our upcoming trip and I was mentioning that I really didn't want to have to wear my big running sneakers to walk around San Francisco, even though I knew they were a better choice for my back and feet than my cute little Converse that have zero arch support. She was like, "Wear the sneakers, who cares?" And I responded, "Well, I don't want to look like an old lady." And she was like, "First of all, you're not wearing orthotics, they're Saucony running shoes. Second of all, you need to take care of yourself and your back, third of all, WHO CARES what you're wearing on your feet?"

She was right on all counts. But I didn't get the lesson yet. I pressed on further.

Me: "Well with the way my body is right now I already have a matronly type look and I don't want to be perceived as old and matronly and if I wear the sneakers with my capri pants I'll look like all of the old lady tourists who walk around the mall before it opens, talking about their hip replacements and their medications and all of that stuff."

Her: Audible sigh.  Pause.  Then, what came of her mouth were, in my opinion, words of wisdom far beyond her years.

"Here's the thing.  You're so concerned about what everyone else is thinking.  Well no one else is thinking ANYTHING! Not to mention, who cares what anyone else may be thinking - BE COMFORTABLE! Wear what you want to wear! It doesn't matter! Life is too short to worry about these things!"

Of course she was right. And I agreed with everything she said 100%.  In fact,  I have given her the same exact advice many many times throughout her life.  But isn't it true that we're usually great at giving the very advice to others that create roadblocks in our own lives?

I nodded silently, agreeing with everything she said in my head.  I was almost convinced, but decided to try one more tactic just to see if I was indeed correct in my thinking and could stay tethered to the bonds of insecurity from my youth.

I said, "I agree with everything you said. You're SO right.  But what about those makeovers on TV where they give people a new look which gives them confidence and sets them on a road to a new and happier life. What about the 'What Not To Wear' ladies?"

She thought for a moment and replied, "Well, the makeovers are a bit different.  It's true that they give people confidence, which I'm in favor of, but those people aren't able to maintain the hair and makeup that an entire team has spent hours working on. I think it's good to give the people a glimpse into what they 'could' look like, if they are dissatisfied with their current look, but I don't think it's the be-all-and-end-all that the shows try to make it seem like." Pause.  "And I have a REAL problem with those 'What Not To Wear' people. I don't think they should exist. Who are they to tell you what to wear or what not to wear based on a look that society thinks you should adhere to.  It's YOUR LIFE! If you want to wear a muumuu because it's comfortable for your life, then wear a muumuu. If you want to walk around in skinny jeans and high heels because it makes you feel attractive then wear that. But nobody has any right to tell anyone else how they should or shouldn't dress and how they should or shouldn't look. Their opinions are based on what THEY think you should look like according to often unattainable standards.  Wear what you want and who cares what anyone else thinks about it."

I was silent, taking in all that she said, and after about 10 seconds I realized something:

She rocked my world.

While on some level I already knew everything she was saying, at my most conscious level I always envied the makeover people on tv and completely subscribed to the "What Not To Wear" people's advice.  I saw the transformations and wished that someone would come to me to help make me the most beautiful and I could be, or at least acceptable to the world because I was now dressing in a way that most flattered my body shape.

But now as I think about it, what does that word "flattering" even mean? In my life it has always meant, "makes me look thinner." But the dictionary definition of "flattering" is: Complimentary, favorable, pleasing, becoming, and enhancing one's appearance. It also means: To praise or compliment insincerely, to gratify by falsification. Very interesting.  To me, "flattering" is all about how you appear to others and what those others think of your appearance.

As I have said here before, I was raised with the tenet that other people's opinions were more important and significant than my own.  If the scale didn't read society's acceptable level of weight I was ugly and a failure. If I was rejected by someone then it was futile to try again because those rejectors must be right. If someone ridiculed me about what I wore or the way I walked or looked, those comments were to be believed and taken to heart because what others had to say was always more important than the quiet voice inside of me that was trying desperately to disagree.  (Very early on that voice learned to stay silent because it knew speaking up was futile.)

To that, about a year ago someone told me that I had a matronly style.  This opinion was furthered shortly afterwards after I saw 2 women, one over 70 and one clearly in her 80s, wearing the same shirts that I had recently purchased.  (as an aside, I LOVED these shirts! They were color blocked and striped and they actually looked really good on me, even with the previously expressly forbidden for 35 years horizontal stripe pattern. For some reason these shirts just resonated with me and I absolutely loved them.)  They were on sale (plus I had discount coupons) and I liked them so much that actually bought 2 of them in different colors.  One woman was in the blue one, the other was in the pink one. Needless to say, I returned both shirts to the store because that person's words rang out in my head and did not like being viewed as having a matronly style.  (Especially with my ample curves I have been made to believe from a young age that I appear more matronly than someone with a flatter chest and narrower hips.)

That particular comment, which I viewed as an insult, has stuck with me like Krazy Glue. It wasn't until the conversation with my daughter that I realized that I had been taking it to heart every time I got dressed to leave the house.  I've said things to myself like, "Ok, this shirt is from Old Navy, these pants are from H&M, there's no way anyone could consider this outfit matronly." It became very important to me to be more cognizant of what I was wearing and how it could be perceived.

This also made me realize that how we believe we are perceived by others goes beyond our outer coverings.  Many of us walk around clothed in shame first, and the fabric we choose to cover our bodies often reflects how we feel underneath them.  And the shame can come from more than our appearance.  It can come from holding onto mistakes we might have made, or accomplishments unfinished, or dreams unrealized.  I know someone who walks around attired in defeat and regret every day because of her divorce.  It's been 15 years and she still can't get over what she considers to be an enormous failure in the eyes of everyone she meets.  I know someone else whose daily wardrobe consists of humiliation and self-degredation because she had plans for a certain career and then didn't get into the schools and programs she planned on.  She's ended up working a series of random jobs with no real focus because she can't get over her disappointment and find a new path.

As much as we try to hide our true feelings about ourselves, they come out loudly to the world regardless of what clothing we choose to put on top of them.  If we're happy and content and confident and grateful, then that is what shines forth beyond the comfortable non-designer clothes.  If we're morose, angry, dispirited, and pessimistic, that energy is what comes through, regardless of the trendy, high-end fashion we've using as an attempt to cover up our broken souls.

My point is, as my daughter put so eloquently, wear what you like, wear what makes you feel good, spend less time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, and don't worry one bit about what it might look like to someone else.  Life is too short to be a slave to what some random marketing machine deems stylish or appropriate or flattering. The only thing "Not To Wear" I think, is a frown or a negative attitude.  Have you noticed that when you're smiling everything looks good on you?

P.S. For those of you wondering, I brought my running sneakers on the trip, but for Day #1 of strolling around the city I wore my cute Converse with the minimal arch support.  My feet and back paid for it the next day and I've been sporting my Sauconys ever since.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Talk less, listen more.

As Erma Bombeck famously stated in her "If I Had My Life To Live Over" essay, she said she would have "talked less and listened more."

Dear Erma, I wholeheartedly agree.

Yesterday my family and I had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my husbands 93 year old grandmother.  The kids and I have only actually met her a handful of times, and usually as a part of a family reunion. So getting to talk to her, or more accurately, listen to her, was a rare occasion  to get a glimpse into her life way back before World War II, before the invention of the television, and before she had six kids and a husband who left her shortly after the sixth one was born.

I came prepared with questions that I jotted down on the back of a receipt I found in my purse on the way over to her house.  My husband did not know the answers to any of the questions and he was as fascinated as I was to learn about her experiences as a young girl in boarding school and how she spent her summers in her youth.  Being of hearty English stock, she recalled how she persevered steadfastly and rather unemotionally after her mother left when she was 6 and confessed how she never really knew the woman who gave birth to her.  She considers her stepmother her real mother and cherishes her 3 step siblings.  While she couldn't remember specific activities they did together as children, she remembered fondly the fact that they always had chores to do on the farm and how no adults were concerned about how their kids or the neighbors' kids were being entertained.  They were left to their own devices to figure out how to pass the time between school and work and there was virtually no supervision once a child could manage tasks on his or her own.  She laughed at the memory of the neighbor boy peering in the window to watch their first tiny black and white television, and frowned with disdain remembering the "coming out" parties of her debutante acquaintances.  She took us through her history of meeting Grandpa (my husband had never heard that story) of raising her kids on her own farm, of teaching special needs children and running horse camps after her children were grown (and finally retiring at age 70!) and of always having her door open for when a niece or nephew or grandchild needed a place to stay, even for an indefinite period of time.  When I asked her when was her happiest time she grew pensive for a moment and didn't answer.  After the pause I gently asked further, "Was it when you had your six children all around you in the house?" She remained silent for another minute, then looked up and replied, "Yes. Yes I think it was."  I'm quite sure no one had ever asked her that question in 93 years.

As she talked for a good 75 minutes or so, my teenage kids were enraptured.  There was no checking of phones or talking among themselves or looking bored.  They added their own questions and comments to her stories, and laughed along when she told of a funny instance that had, until then, been long since forgotten. It was, quite simply, a magical time spent together, and one that we are all incredibly grateful and honored to have had experienced.

I asked similar questions to 2 great aunts from my father's side many years ago, shortly before they passed away.  It was amazing to get a real picture of these quiet, polite, and very reserved old ladies whooping it up in the South, playing the part of Scarlett O'Hara in the early part of the twentieth century, long before their hair turned white. Their eyes sparkled and their voices came alive as they told us all about the nicknames in the family, the weekly dances and courting rituals, and of course, the rampant racism that wasn't recognized as such in the innocence of their youth.  After those special moments we all saw them as real people, and no longer just as the twice-older generation with whom we had nothing in common and nothing similar to which we could relate.

Everybody has a story.  Every person who has ever walked on the Earth has had experiences unique to them, but are also a part of a shared experience called humanity.  Everyone has hopes and expectations, has experienced love in some form or another, and has suffered loss, which I believe is the great unifier.  It can be fun and extremely rewarding to get to know the stories and backgrounds of the people that you know by name but don't really know as fellow human beings; especially those with whom you have a presumption that you're too different to have a connection with besides familially.

So I would encourage you, when you have the chance, sit down with an elderly relative or friend of the  family and ask them about their life.  Take them back to what will most likely be a simpler time when they had their life in front of them instead of behind. They will most likely be delighted to share their life stories with you, and undoubtedly thrilled that someone took the time to ask. Unfortunately it seems that senior citizenship is not recognized or respected in American culture and often the elders in our society are pushed off to the side and even ignored when the younger people are around.  Wouldn't it be nice to change that within your own circle?

Here is a list of questions to get you started:

1.  Where did you go to elementary school? What was the culture there? What were the disciplinary actions doled out by the teachers?

2.  What did you do for fun as a family, before television and computers? Did your family have a radio that they listened to nightly?

3.  What were some of your favorite meals cooked by your mother? What did she do while you were in school?

4.  Did you have a secret hideout like a tree or a cave nearby? Who were your friends and what kind of games did you play?

5.  What was your first job? Do you remember what you got paid?

6.  How did you meet Grandpa/Grandma? Were you ever in love before you met him or her? How long did you date before getting engaged/married? May we see your wedding photos?

7.  What were your career goals?  Were you encouraged to follow your aspirations as a young adult?

8.  What was the political climate like when you were young? Was there racism or prejudice in the town where you grew up? If so, which groups of people were targets?

9.  What was your favorite toy as a child? Do you remember who gave it to you or where you got it?

10. What was your favorite subject in school?

11. What was the make of your first car?

12. Did you have a pet growing up? What was its name?

13. What were birthday parties like when you were young?

14. What was your favorite book growing up?

15. What did you wear to go to school?

16. Do you remember when you first got a television? A record player/phonograph?

17. Do you remember how much a loaf of bread cost when you were young? How about a chocolate bar? A soda at the soda fountain?

18. What did you worry about when you were younger? Did you have to participate in things like air raid drills?

19. Did you know your own grandparents?

20. When was the happiest time in your life?

Please feel free to add your own questions and let the conversation go off on as many tangents as the speaker wants.  I would also suggest keeping water or another beverage handy if the person isn't used to talking so much at one time.  You can also record the conversation to play for other relatives who might be interested.  We didn't record this conversation because I felt that Grandma wouldn't feel as comfortable speaking freely if she was being recorded, but if your person is up for it, it would be a wonderful keepsake to pass along to future generations (assuming of course they will have the correct technology to play the recording 😉)

All this to say, while we still have our precious elders with us, we should try to form a connection with them before they and their stories are gone forever.  Don't forget, you came from somewhere - we all did - and it is only through the the accomplishments and daily living of the people who came before us that led us to where we are today.  Find out about them.  Take the time to engage and question and listen to the fascinating stories about what came before you.  Hopefully the young ones of the future will do the same with us.