Life

Happy Hour Conversations: Making Connections

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Lunch for one along the New River, Ft. Lauderdale

It was one of those events at which you don’t think you’ll see the people again, so you talk freely or question others with abandon. Somehow, in my desire to use my time wisely and listen to other people, I ended up being questioned and talking more than I wanted to about a subject that I had no desire to talk about.

The woman who sat to my left at this “Women Over 50” group dinner still works part-time as a marriage therapist. She was disappointed that I was long divorced and, thus, unable to save my marriage with her sage advice. Nonetheless, she plowed forward, wanting to know what I did or did not do that may or may not have contributed to the failure of the marriage and the bitter divorce process itself. Fun Happy Hour!

As I talked, she seemed more interested in the conversation than me. I had no desire for this ancient rehash. There’s a point when the past disconnects and transforms into a narrative that has no relation to your current life or self. It’s history that you already learned from and have no desire to see what else can be gleaned. We last lived in the same house in 2009. Don’t I get a reprieve from all the know-betterers at some point?

Once I managed to get the conversation to her, I realized why she wanted to focus on me. Her husband died two years ago, but she had been his primary caregiver for years and she still seemed exhausted by the experience and the loss. Her sadness came through, but so did the frustration with a chain of unhelpful home aides. This then transitioned to anger and more frustration when she talked about her step-daughter with addictions and all that comes with that, including a system that put her grandchild back into an unstable situation. It seems that perhaps my divorce was the light part of the conversation for her, the place where she could be the professional, not the patient.

I next talked to a woman across from me who had been a social worker and was also still clearly identifying with her profession. When I said that I planned to move to live near my daughters, she kept saying “live your life, live your life.” This, also, turned out to be advice to self as she told me that her husband died a year ago. and her son and daughter-in-law, who had moved in with her temporarily before COVID, were still there. In fact, she left with bags of take-out for them. She also warned me about scams on dating apps. I’m not on any of those any more, but I was glad for her that she hadn’t given up yet on finding someone. Her advice to me, noted, but I don’t see how spending time with family takes away from my life.

Somehow, I managed to talk to those two before the conversation-hog across from me got to monopolizing the table. With her, I was definitely off the hook of having to answer any questions about my divorce or my future. What was interesting about her was how uninteresting she was, very boisterously. She mainly talked about a birthday party her family had for her mother back home in Colombia. There was time off from work. There were flowers. There was music and dancing. There was even her surprising her mother that she was there. (Since she didn’t need any dialogue, just our nods, I didn’t get to question the wisdom of surprising a 90-year-old woman.)

In the last few minutes when we were paying our bills, I spoke to the woman on my right. Her advice, after telling me that she can’t travel anymore because she needs knee replacement surgery, was that I should make sure to travel before it’s too late.  

On the drive home, I felt surprisingly good about the event. The food was mediocre and the conversations frustrated me, but I got out of the house and my head, and met some new people. It’s not always necessary to have an insightful conversation for it to be a worthwhile one. Each of us got out of the walls we live within to connect, however lightly, with other people. There are now some new people and stories in my head.

Looking back at the evening, I’d say that it had been a few happy hours because connections are just as important as relationships.


Retirement Hobby: Pottery with Purpose

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Were they supposed to be bowls?

Throw clay on a wheel—whatever that meant—I wanted to do it! Shape clay with wet, slick hands. Go beyond painting-on-pottery that I did when my daughters were young. I wanted to create something that I could use and look at, thinking with pride, “I did that.” The time finally came about a month ago.

In the first lesson, I learned that it’s harder and more frustrating than I imagined. It’s also more satisfying. Now, after five classes, it’s slightly less frustrating, but still satisfying. There aren’t any finished products yet to use and wonder at, and having an end-product is starting to feel like a bonus.

It really is about the process, about being absorbed in the making. There are specific steps. While going through them, a connection is created between myself and a lump of clay—many lumps of clay—as I keep repeating the process, feeling the clay in my hands, and my body becoming centered as I focus on centering and shaping the clay. I am my hands, my mind is focused—in/on—my hands, all other thoughts fade away. (Except, perhaps, ugh, another failure; time to try again.)

It's not easy. It feels as if I’ve pulled the walls up as high as one pound of clay can go only to see that it’s barely an inch, or two if I’m on the right track. (From what I see, looking around the classroom space at the others who’ve taken this intro class before, it can get as high as 6 inches.) Clearly, this takes a lot of practice. But it’s also a test in patience.

Wheel throwing has become a way to be absorbed in something outside of myself. I knew that I needed to do something physical as a counterbalance to all the reading and writing that I do in a day. And while I usually walk and swim as exercise, my mind still wanders amidst words and memories and ideas. I need an occasional break from myself and my thoughts. Friends recommended meditation, but that feels like too much of what I do; I don’t want words swirling around, even if I acknowledge them to dismiss them. 

As the practical person that I am, I needed a hobby where I make something useful. I thought about sewing, but that would mean my being more in the small apartment I share with my mother. And I definitely needed a break from being there as well.

About two months ago, I signed up for this wheel throwing class after telling a friend how much I enjoyed my initial dipping-the-toe-in lesson, but that I wouldn’t continue since what would I do with all the things I create. Her response was that I can give the stuff away, but why not do something for myself—mind you, this was right after my mother was sick and intense caregiving duties seemed to be looming on the horizon. While those duties have retreated as my mother got better, they are still a concern for the future; truly, she’s not getting younger. My friend, and her daughter, were right: pottery is the meditative, creative, centering activity that I need right now, active caregiving or not.

For a change, I’m doing something with no motive other than the thing itself. It’s not a walk for my health, or a meet-up to make new friends and perhaps meet a man. I went because it was something that I needed to do—for me. The women I’ve met there have all been nice, but we’re focused on our pottery. And it feels good to leave after a few hours not thinking that I didn’t make any lifelong friends, but thinking that the brief conversations, mainly about what they’re making and some helpful tips, were part of the experience of the moment and not meant to go beyond it. They are of the time and place. And that’s okay.

It turns out that the throwing part is momentary. Prepare the clay by wedging, which is like kneading. Form it into a ball or a cone and then throw it onto the center of a pottery wheel (actually a bat, which is a disc that goes on the wheel itself). Now, using your hands and water to keep them wet so they can glide over the surface, shape the clay to form it into the vessel you want. Throwing is so brief. Oddly enough, the act of the throw isn’t satisfying because you’re so intentional on getting it centered that you can’t throw with abandon. It feels good, though, to hear the thunck when it hits the surface (kind of like a good thwack of a pickle ball). Yet another surprise.

Even with all the positive feelings about this foray into pottery making, I’m not sure that I’ll continue and I’m not sure why. The frustration is real, but so is the incremental improvement. Maybe it really is that I don’t make to make things. Or that I’ve gotten so used to being alone, that it’s uncomfortable with other people around (which should probably be a reason to continue). But maybe it’s okay to not know. And maybe it’s okay to just try something, enjoy it, and then move on. I don’t have to commit to something, I don’t have to have one specific hobby.

During the first lesson, I jokingly told the other beginner in the class, “I’m glad I’m not thinking of making this a career.” I tend to think that my activities need to be important. When I started baking, it was to have a bakery. When I came up with ideas for toys and games, it was to have a company. (And this was before Shark Tank.) Maybe I really can just enjoy something in the moment for itself without having to turn it into more than an enjoyable activity. Perhaps this is the lesson here: I’m allowed to do things for myself without feeling guilty that not every action is about giving.


No Bucket List for Me: But Still Places to Be

20230317_163816(1)Street about 20 minutes from home

I don’t have a bucket list. That phrase doesn’t make sense to me: how can a bucket be a list? Anything related to a bucket would be chaotic, a mess, a blob, a pile, certainly not a list with bullets and indents. Also, as a city (or suburban) woman, I’ve rarely used a bucket, so why would I use one to contemplate the things that I may, on occasion, daydream about?

On a non-literal level, I’m easy on myself. I have no desire to do something that scares me or could kill me even more than driving in southern Florida. I don’t get what’s accomplished—what you get out of—jumping from anything, be it a bridge, a ledge, or an airplane. Overcoming fear? If you’ve gotten to the age when people around you talk about their bucket lists, then you’ve surely done plenty of things that were scary in your day-to-day living. Why push fate? Anyway, isn’t it more about you trusting in whatever technology is used and the people who used it as opposed to you doing something that proves you’re stronger than you thought? So how is that validating? Why not just take a deep breath, acknowledge where you’ve been, where you are, and have a nice meal to celebrate survival, and then contemplate what is yet to come?

I don’t even have a “Places to Visit” list because it doesn’t matter. So what if I never get to Australia, which I dreamed about visiting after watching Walkabout when I was a girl. Anyway, the girl who was moved by that movie is a different version of me—do I want to visit Australia or am I simply holding onto her desire? Besides, I think my response to that movie was about wanting to be somewhere completely different, to have an adventure. Does it have to be in Australia where I was fascinated by two kids who have a very sad adventure after they’re abandoned in the Outback by their father who commits suicide? I did live in an entirely different place where I walked around its semi-arid landscape and had adventures, so mission accomplished, sort of.

Maybe if we think about what our goals and destinations represent, it could prevent disappointment and clinging to outdated notions of ourselves. What we need to do is realize how far we’ve come in our lives and what we’ve done—dare I say accomplished (this really is a note to self)—and not look to do more before taking stock and reassessing. Which, of course, needs to be free of competitive accounting, which, I dare say, is often the culprit in contemplating goals. Again, does it matter where I’ve had delightful days, as long as I’ve had a few?

A few months ago, I realized that in all the places I’ve lived: New York City, Buffalo, the Tel Aviv area, Northern Virginia, and now the West Palm Beach area, I’ve never gone to all the guidebook-worthy places. Now, I’m determined to change that. Walk in nature, a city, a quaint town. Go to a museum. Discover foods and restaurants. The focus now is on where I live as opposed to seeking to do the same things I like to do after having spent a lot of time, money, and anxiety, to just get from here to there. With home as my base, I have the benefit of returning to my comfy space after the hours of exploration. Do I feel challenged? Why do I need to be? I’m enjoying exploring without discomfort. Am I really a better version of myself if I’ve managed to get from the airport to a hotel to a tourist site to a nice restaurant and have even stood up for myself if something went wrong?

At the base of all these places to visit and things to do should be an understanding of what I need to feel that I’m not standing still as a person. More times than not, that happens sitting on the balcony writing. Of course, the writing is informed by the meanderings, even if they only took me around the block. Perhaps appreciation of what we have and who we are matters more than checked lists of places seen. What does it say about us if we can’t appreciate experiences that happen close to home?

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Alligator in park about 20 minutes from home

Single Women and Their Blood Pressure

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Flamingo Park, West Palm Beach

In the latest edition of—whether you want it or not, you’re getting it—the AARP magazine—I read the article, “8 Habits That Are Raising Your Blood Pressure,” which got mine up from reading it, when I had hoped that it would give me tips on lowering it.

The first listed reason for high blood pressure details the harm of being “an antisocial woman or an overly social man.” It then goes on to talk about “socially isolated” women, and men who have too large of a network. (Maybe with all the talk of AI taking over the writing world, I’m back in teacher-mode, focusing on words and their usage, and why we still need people to see the not-so-subtle nuances). Why are they equating someone who is antisocial with someone who is socially isolated? These are not the same. In one case, you go out of your way to stay away from people; in the other, it’s not that you don’t want to socialize, it’s that connections aren’t there, for whatever reason, and that’s stressing you out (and, oops, there goes your blood pressure).

I also don’t understand how, in our extrovert-focused society, the author can say that someone who hangs out with lots of people is “overly social.” What does this even mean? Maybe it’s about lacking deep connections or downtime to process all the excitement you’ve been having, so that your blood pressure can have a breather? 

Clearly, the article is meant to be helpful, with yet another list to help us live our lives. But it feels like judging is happening. It’s not healthy for women to be too alone or men to be too together, in relation to (only?) blood pressure. But what is a person supposed to do about that? It’s not as if lonely people haven’t tried to unlonely themselves, and the overly social have become used to that way of being. (I assume that they have heard of meditation, reading, and walks by a body of water, but perhaps there may be some realizations, insights, and thoughts that they prefer to keep at bay. And the lonely of us, surely, they have been defeated by multiple attempts at making enough lasting connections to keep loneliness from impacting their health.)

Which brings me to thinking of the things that we’re constantly told (even if we’re not seeking them out) that can help us be healthier and happier. I wonder, is the goal to be a better version of ourselves or to become a bland, generic version?

For a time, I was going to a fair number of meet-ups (for me it was a lot; for the social, a blip on their calendar) and each time there were the introductions that covered the usual condensed life story. After a while, I was tired of introducing myself repeatedly at each event. But it gets tough to rethink both the past and the present, which leads to a review, which leads to a critique, which leads to stress, which leads to, once again, high blood pressure. It was also dull to hear the same things from the people I was meeting. At times it felt that we had all hit the same milestones which resulted in our being in this bowling alley, restaurant, or walking path at this moment. It was as if a flattened version of ourselves was in attendance.

And who wants that? At a certain point, the potential for a life-changing meeting with the man of my dreams (do I even have one?) or even of making a new friend to go to brunch with (oh, how extravagant the desires) are too insignificant to bother. Better to be single dealing with high blood pressure than to be constantly presented with one’s failures.

Ok, I correct myself, these are not failures. These are the choices I have made as I try to lead a full and fulfilling life. And it’s still up to me, AARP suggestions or not, to figure out what degree of lonely and social is right for me. Perhaps today’s plan to go by myself to a museum I have never been to in a city I have never been to is part of that ongoing process.

 


Retirement Phase 2.0: My Mother’s Keeper

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It’s retirement 2.0 for me! The change from 1.0 is not because I’ve relocated to a Caribbean Island with—or without—a lover. Nor is it because I’ve become a babysitting grandmother, correcting mistakes that I made with my daughters. Nor is it back to working full-time because of boredom or overly optimistic financial planning. No. It’s 2.0 because my mother has had some health issues lately and now depends on me for more than my charming presence in her home.

The tentative plans that I started contemplating when I last visited my daughters, where I would stay for a few months near each of them out on the West Coast, have dissipated. Gone, now that my mother needs me to help her out more—physically (if she’ll take my arm) and mentally (if she’ll listen to me through the cycle of woe and anxiety that has become her internal voice track). Now I get to take her to her doctors’ appointments, which have become more than annual—and to remember for her when they are, and to not get chocolate cake (wink wink—GET chocolate cake) when I go to the grocery store for her.

She went from being a supremely capable older woman to an unsure elderly woman in a single illness. It is the age, I understand from friends, on the cusp of 90, when that happens. Hopefully, the treatment(s?) will heal her physically, but it still seems that this was a before-after moment. She has been touched by the idea of her mortality, something that she has kept hidden in the back of her mind, even as the wrinkles took over. From what I’ve been told from those who’ve gone through this before me, the before-after switch into being elderly—feeling frail and forlornly fearful of mortality—is often because of a fall. With her it was a fall and another fall, a passing out, a few days in the hospital, visits to new specialists, and tests. No broken bones, but a fractured spirit. And even as self-focused as I can be, I know that this is not the time to be two flights away for an extended period of time.

It’s funny, she still thinks that I don’t have to make any changes to accommodate her. After all, I’m still doing my occasional dogsitting nearby, now that she's recovered enough to not need me there to make sure she makes it to the bathroom. Her sense of independence, or is it an inability to ask for and accept help, perhaps keeps her strong and fighting. But, looking from the outside and also thinking about myself and this inherited family trait, it also seems to mean losing out on a way to connect to loved ones and people who care.

Independence does not mean that you eschew help just for the sake of showing that you can do it. At a certain point, this seems more a sign of stubbornness than logic. No, it means that you’re making your own decisions while also appreciating that there are ways for others to make your life easier—to enhance your life. If we offer a hand, why can’t we accept one as well?

It's not as if you’re dumping the burden of you onto someone else. It’s not even sharing it, since it’s still your reality. Rather, it’s being aware that there are people who care and who you can trust to not diminish you, but to encourage you to be fully you, within whatever limitations time and gravity have done to your body.

It seems to me that this is a lesson all of us could use, whatever stage we’re in of the aging process.

 


Retired Women Don’t Like Clothes

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Lake Worth Beach Parrots

It turns out that retired women don’t like clothes. Okay, maybe not clothes altogether. I don’t think that they’re turning clothing-optional, but the process of having to dress to head outside and, you know, interact with people who have things to do and places to be is not something that they look forward to doing. Apparently, years of interactions and dressing for those interactions, has sapped us of our desire to do it one more time. Stay-at-home-retirees! That’s a thing.

It's also a thing to be surprised by the person we used to be. Who is that woman who ran meetings and talked to people all day long? Could she possibly be the woman who lives in her Boomer sweats, tries to sneak out to the stores when no one else will be there, and who cringes at the thought of chit chat?

The idea of the older recluse is not far from our minds—in an envious way.

We did not retire to waste more time on mindless activities and conversations. If that’s what you’re offering, then there’s no getting dressed for you!

Tied with not wanting to get dressed in outside clothes in general is not wanting to get dressed at a specific time for a specific event. If us older people aren’t in the work force, it’s because we have no desire to set an alarm clock for anything other than zooming with friends or family. If we need to set aside even a couple of hours a week consistently to do something, well, that’s another hurdle that we’d rather not overcome.

The ability to roll over in the morning when you see that it’s gray or rainy or snowy or sunny and not feel guilty about it is pure joy. It’s not the same as pressing the snooze button. No, it’s the freedom of knowing that no button can dislodge me.

A lifetime of busy schedules and commitments has led to this, a generation of women who would rather retreat than plan, or attend, another event.

We have become as flighty as our teenage selves, or even our own kids. Sure, we sign up for volunteering and we’re committed to making the world a better place (or is a less horrible place?). Unless, of course, there is that urge to just stay home, with no places to be and people to see, no one expecting anything from us.

It’s lovely to know that you’re in charge of your time—and your wardrobe. You can finally just suit yourself.


The Ways I Define Myself

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

During the holidays, I travelled out West to visit my daughters. (Thankfully, I was neither delayed by storms nor technical meltdowns, and my luggage stayed with me, though it was tight in some bathroom stalls.) It was a break from “daughter living with mother” to “mother visiting daughters.” Now, I’m back in Florida and dog sitting for a few days, so I’m on my own and thinking about how both of those identities define me and, yet, leave me missing me.

The longer I sit here thinking about this, it finally comes to me that I must stop using them as an alternative to establishing a post-retirement identity. I cannot place these relationships in a position where I relinquish my independence, without anyone even wanting that control. These three people are supremely independent and expect the same of me—know me to be the same. Now is not the time to change that.

As has been clear for years, and though I have allowed myself to ignore the evidence and let myself imagine my role differently, my daughters don’t need me in the daily running of their lives. That is a good thing. I am an accessory, maybe a necessary one, but certainly not one needed on a daily basis. I am the pot that you need to cook a specific dish; you may cook it often, but not every day. Perhaps I am like the keychain charms that I keep giving as gifts (first a bedazzled initial from Las Vegas and then a hamsa with the Traveler’s Prayer from Israel), something that you take for granted that is part of something that you need.

I am in limbo. And I feel this even more sitting here in this house that is not mine with the sweet dog who is not mine. Years ago, I had a house and a dog. But I don’t have those things anymore because I married the wrong person and life unraveled to this point. I wish I were over regretting the way things turned out. I need to accept it as history, not as something that could have been different.

Which makes me realize, too, that I should rejoice in this situation where I am in control of the next steps that I take. I am not in constant consultation with a partner or in demand by an uncertain child. The quietness of my days, my ability to spend hours facing my computer without any interruptions, is not a twist of fate, but the way things were meant to be, for me.  

Perhaps thinking of my relationships with my daughters and my mother is to see that we are in a kind of voluntary relationship now, where our past is a benefit, one that feeds the present and the future. If the cost for the things that I don’t have is this peaceful existence and relationships, then there is nothing to regret.

Sometimes, when I read with dread of yet another husband who has killed his wife and maybe also his children, I remember back to a colleague who feared for my life when I left work each day. And I am eternally grateful that I am here to think this thought. It brings me back to this realization that life itself is the gift.

Here I am: I have no job, no permanent home, no partnered relationship; I have a pension and some savings. I am a person with a ticket to try to be fully herself in as simple and effective a way as suits me. Leaving aside the hindering weight of expectations and disappointments is surely an important step in the process. This recurring step is perhaps here to remind me that my past—myself in the past—is neither positive nor negative, but the reality of lived life. Recognition of self at this moment: always an initial step, always different.

Even as I sit here thinking that I am stagnant, I see that I am not. And that is the beauty, isn’t it? As this earth hurls through space without our feeling it, we, too, hurl through our lives without realizing it. Not noticing, noting, the changes, but they have taken place. Life is being lived; even here, within thoughts, desires, regrets, acknowledgments.

I see now that there is always purpose, even if it doesn’t seem so. Something that I feared was not true, hence the reliance on being needed.

It comes to me as I stare out the window waiting for thoughts to come that the weight of each life, as it exists in balance with the other lives in its range, is unknowable but that does not negate its force. The essence that is unique to each of us—impacting, impacted—is the distillation of the experiences we have lived to reach now. There must be satisfaction in this moment, for there to be more in the next.


Being in Israel after 22 Years: A Reaffirming and Inspiring Journey

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New and Old Tel Aviv

When I arrived in Israel in mid-October, I took the train north from the airport outside of Tel Aviv to Binyamina, the stop nearest where I would be staying. In the hour ride, I looked around the crowded train at the people working on their laptops, talking to each other or on their phones, gazing out the window, sleeping—people in the interim stage that is travel. Out the window I saw office buildings, strip malls, industrial areas, greenhouses, farms, neighborhoods of private homes and apartment buildings—and I thought to myself that the antisemites and anti-Zionists who want to destroy Israel don’t seem to grasp—care—that this is a real country, with millions of people living their lives. This is not a political statement; this is life. This is not merely a decision written on a piece of paper or a vote in the UN. This is not a military base. This is home to generations of Jews who are simply living their lives, as they have done since ancient times.

Israel has a robust infrastructure—one that is continually being developed, as evidenced by that train itself which didn’t exist when I flew out in 2000, and the light rail I took in Jerusalem, and the light rail being built in Tel Aviv, which made the traffic there even worse. This is not a temporary spot to move from. This is the place Jews have prayed to return to. This is home.

This should be the place to feel at peace, as when you get home after a long trip. After more than two millennia of being chased out of towns for trying to make a living in the only ways permitted, or being forcibly converted because we’re still waiting for the Messiah, or being burned for praying differently, this settling in should be lauded. Our ancestors were not all killed. They did not all give up. They did not fully concede to the majority religion wherever it was that they lived at that time. Seems to me that perseverance and dedication are behaviors we generally value and admire.

That the people who proclaim that no Jews should live in Israel are accepted astounds me. That the people who want to deny Israel’s right to exist—Israelis right to live in their country—that they want to give one group rights and then deprive those same rights of another group (not just of a homeland, but of life itself)—seems to be the definition of inhumanity and hypocrisy. In the twisted way the world and the mind work, they are seen as being on the side of freedom. Dangerous hypocrisy.

The absurdity in rising antisemitism, the throwing of the Jews—who are just people like all people, trying to live their lives—once again under the scapegoat bus of a world full of people who find it easier to hate and blame than to consider the challenges of someone else’s life situation, challenges my (natural) inclination to believe that people are basically good. This is a stark testament to the fact that this is not a time of enlightenment, as we had hoped. No, it is a time, just like any other, where there are advances and setbacks, a constant struggle. We are not better because we have indoor plumbing and vaccines. People are still people. But why does poor treatment of Jews always have to be a sign?

My month in Israel, with more trips on trains and buses, miles of walking along bustling streets, and people-watching as I sat at cafes, was inspiring. I remembered anew why I had moved there after college and why I had stayed for almost 20 years. To feel an intrinsic bond with the people around you is not something to take lightly. To see jelly donuts in bakeries as a sign that Hannukah is coming (yeah, this celebration of oil!), as opposed to the barrage of Christmas merchandise and programming meant that I didn’t feel excluded, that I belonged. Jewish people feeling safe in their own homeland should be the goal, not something to conspire against. Jewish people feeling safe wherever they live or travel shouldn’t be a goal, but the norm.

I wish that “people are people” wasn’t my sour understanding that people can be horrible to each other, to Jews, as they have been over the centuries. No, I wish I could interpret it to mean that notwithstanding our differences, we focus on the commonalities and that leads to curiosity and acceptance.

A commuter in Israel should not be a terrorist’s objective. It should be what it is, a person going to work or school, supporting their family, sharing ideas, overcoming challenges, helping those who need it. People living lives. Such a basic concept.

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Downtown Tel Aviv




Back in Israel: A Tourist in a Place that Had Been Home

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Where we used to live in Tel Aviv

I’m in Israel visiting for a month after not having been here for more than 22 years. Much is different; much is the same. For Israel; for me.

When I left in the summer of 2000, I lived here with my family, my husband and I were about to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary in the dream home we recently purchased, one daughter was going into 4th grade and her sister into kindergarten, and I worked in the high-tech industry. Now, I live in southern Florida with my mother (after leaving Northern Virginia where we moved that summer for what was supposed to be a temporary stay), I’ve been divorced for many years, my daughters have both graduated college, and I retired from teaching (a career I hadn’t even envisioned in 2000). Twenty-two years of living, but always wistfully thinking that I should be in Israel.

This trip represents action—finally back—and a moment to pause before moving forward, unstuck. It’s time to accept, I see now, who I am and where I am. I need to acknowledge that the past is different from what I thought it would be. How many of us are living the lives we had imagined when we were 20?

Looking forward, I need to think about what I need to do so that this moment becomes a stepping stone for what will be, rather than a memorial keeping me stuck contemplating what was not.

From 0 to 20 in New York, 20 to 40 in Israel, 40 to 60 in Virginia. Maybe the moves and the timings were right. There was enough time in each place to adapt and feel at home, as least as much as possible when I live so much in my own (internal and external) space. 

On this trip (because that is what it is), I see that I have always been a woman who spends much of her time wandering around by herself, people-watching, contemplating, being in motion and still at the same moment. I feared encountering this aloneness (one reason why it took so long for me to come back). But that’s okay, I realize; it’s my core.

But I’m not always alone here. I have come to meet people I volunteer with long-distance and to finally see the two institutions I’ve spent hours helping raise funds for, so that they can continue the important work they do in bringing people together, providing an education, showing that equality and mutual respect are not just for other people in other places. I am necessary. I have purpose. I may be a wanderer, but I’m also a giver. That balance maintains me, wherever my home may be.

Israel is busier, more crowded, more built-up, than when I was last here. But still, the characters and the character, the sounds and the Shabbat silence, the foods and the interactions, remind me of why I moved here so many years ago. To be Jewish in Israel is a somber and satisfying fulfillment of identity and history. It is to feel connected from the root.

The Hebrew that took years to learn looks and sounds wonderful: I read signs and advertisements, listen to the news (oh, the news ☹), and I can still eavesdrop (this was my first indication that I had learned enough Hebrew to integrate into society), and ask for help, and hold conversations. To see people dressed like me, the many secular Israelis, and the religious Jews, with their head coverings and clothing styles signaling their belief systems, is comforting. It is to re-immerse into a world that feels so comfortable, even though it has been so long. At home, but not home is still a satisfying to experience.

Being confronted with my past in such a physical way makes me realize that life is not about the choices we make, but how we live from them. My actions and inactions have led me to a fulfilling life, with people who I love and who love me. Not an outcome to regret, but one to celebrate.

Going forward, perhaps I can incorporate more frequent visits here so that my past, my present, and my future blend together.

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My view now in Zichron Ya'acov

Retirement Brain: Things I Forget Intentionally and Unintentionally

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Driving to the beach the other morning, I heard about a not-new study that tested the brain function of people 14 years before retirement and then 14 years after. Deterioration occurs. Verbal memory was negatively impacted, which means people forgot words and verbal items (referring to analogies, antonyms, sentence completion, and reading comprehension). “Use it or lose it.” This made me think about some trade-offs that may occur upon retirement. My fear of forgetting where a comma goes and for whom the bell tolls contrasted with my fear of not spending time with the people who matter to me, of having my life overshadowed by concerns for my students (who have probably already forgotten me), and of not having the opportunity to figure out who I am without thinking about my career. The fear of staying in a job for fear of forgetting could result in not getting to experience post-work life.

This made me think of some of the things we need to remember over the course of our lives: people (faces, names, stories, birthdays); homes; schedules; career terminology; driving routes and walking paths; recipes; events; family histories; the books read; the movies, plays, and TV shows watched; and the places visited. Thinking back, or trying to, it’s hard to even realize how many things have been forgotten. But just because something isn’t recalled doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been absorbed somehow into our essence. The croissant of life (much nicer to think about than an onion’s layers).

What do we want from our memory? From our lives? We want them intact and for us to be in control of them. But how much of that is possible?

Even before I retired at the end of the 2019-20 school year when I was 60 and a few months (right at the age when I could start receiving my pension), I already felt myself needing more time to access words and to regain a train of thought. It’s so odd to experience those inside wrinkles, just as it is to feel the thinning hair and see the age spots. In class (here’s a partial excuse), it became apparent that I really needed to watch what I said because it could be recorded and twisted to be turned against me (by a parent whose darling was not getting the A they absolutely deserved), so I took my time composing my thoughts before speaking. (Self-censorship or wisdom?) Even so, I could feel my brain working instead of it just working. Kind of like watching my mother get up from a chair: at 88 it was a slow-motion process, not a simple act.

Of course, I don’t want to forget things, especially if it’s my fault. I play Wordle and Quordle daily, and read and write, but I talk a lot less than I used to. Oh my, the amount of talking that goes into teaching. But that’s now countered with the calm I feel (except when looking at the stock market and my life savings experiencing loss). The balance of words lost to calm maintained must surely count as a significant benefit.

I hadn’t realized how much thinking about work overtakes our thoughts for so much of our lives. From a young age we’re directed to think about what we want to be when we grow up, and then we study for that and work at it, and then realize that we were wrong, so we try to figure out what we really want to do, and then work to transition into that new field, and then there’s the money we need to make to support ourselves and our growing families, and self-satisfaction takes a backseat to money for our children so they can start the process themselves. It’s never-ending, until it does end—at the point when a new version of us can emerge.

I remember words and their meanings, but now I also think about finding my own meanings so that I want to hold on and not loosen my grasp of life.

Here I am. A person focusing on being a better me and figuring out what that entails. It’s not selfish to continue within this unfurling, to live fully within my allotted time and space. It is to live within my expectations, not society’s.


Finding Meaning and Being Meaning

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In the distance are several small brown shapes. Perhaps they are napping birds, waiting for the heat to dissipate (October and midday heat still offends), so they can resume their search for food. Maybe they are tree stumps, forever moored to the ground. Or maybe they are palm fronds torn from their treed-connections by Hurricane Ian, which seemed to have gardened our area, not gutted it like it did the west coast. (Yes, when people here say the “west coast,” they are referring the west coast of Florida, not to California. A singular mindset in a peninsula.)

Without binoculars, I cannot tell what they are. I guess I could walk over there when I finish sitting in this library, soaking in the quiet until the students arrive to wait for their parents to pick them up or to work with tutors.

Groups of white birds (storks?) have just taken flight. They are too unattached and small in number to count as a flock. A small yellow butterfly has raced past at an astounding pace. The birds have flown to another grassy area, all except for one bird that seems to be looking for a mini-flock to join or rejoin.

The brown shapes have not moved, so I assume they are not birds for, surely, they would have responded to all the movement around them, even if to bristle at the disturbance as I will do soon when the children arrive.

When I taught, I prided myself on always finding meaning in even the smallest details in a story. It was a challenge I enjoyed. But now, I’m a person who doesn’t need to instruct on how to think and how to analyze. I am simply a person experiencing a moment with no agenda to find or impose upon it.

Which is better or truer to me? Does it matter? Are both meaning-finding and being true expressions of my existence? And at this moment, this day after Yom Kippur, I can find gratitude for the wholeness of this moment. I can adjust my demands/expectations/hopes for myself and try to be purpose—as a bird or butterfly or fallen leaf. Do I need to proclaim (to myself) who I am in order to be enriched, or is acknowledging and respecting each moment enough?

In each moment, to be and to be that being is purpose. My insight.


In One Month: A Trip to My Past

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Positive thoughts on a morning walk

In a month, I’m going to Israel for a month. I haven’t been there since the summer of 2000 when my family and I moved to Virginia—a temporary move that became permanent. That’s a long time to be away from the place I originally immigrated to assuming that I would live my life there.

When I left, I had a good job in the high-tech industry (it relocated us), a husband who had an excellent job waiting for him at a DC law firm, older daughter was going into 4th grade and her sister was starting kindergarten. We stayed for a few days with my parents in Queens, then we made our move to Northern Virginia.

About a year before we left Israel, after years of house hunting, we moved into our dream home in Ra’anana (a city about 12 miles north of Tel Aviv). It was a huge accomplishment and we were both proud. But I was to learn that getting what you wish for can exist at the same time as creeping unhappiness.

When I left Israel, I thought peace was on its way. I had seen two cars with Jordanian license plates in Tel Aviv, surely, a positive sign. I thought that I was going to have a brief break from the tensions, that Israel was going to finally deal with the internal strife between religious and secular Jews, and that my daughters would have the opportunity to get to know my family better. I was also going to take a break from the Laura I was in Hebrew, almost fluent, but always missing a word or not getting an expression, and anxious about making grammatical mistakes. I missed being the funny, sarcastic Laura I was in English.

When I first moved to Israel, I was 21. I had a life to create and I did. My Israeli life. When we left, I was 39. Since then, my life became another life—almost every aspect unexpected. My second American life. I lost that high-tech job, got a master’s degree that I never really used, divorced my Israeli husband, became and then retired from being a teacher, and my daughters went on their own trajectories on the other side of the country. My father died, my mother moved to Florida, where I now give her emotional, tech, and driving support.

What will it be like to return to a place that I’m told is so different from the one I left? Will I feel at home in this new version? Who will I be there? Who would I have become if I had stayed? I fear going back, being a stranger to my past.

Perhaps I need to embrace then/now/if thinking with the understanding that people and places don’t have to be permanent to be impactful, and that permanence isn’t always what we need. There is always regret, because there are always opportunities not taken and experiences not lived. On the flip side, there were different opportunities experienced. Life is not a blank slate.

Regret exists in not having stayed, but there is also the understanding that if I had stayed and gotten divorced there, things would probably have been very hard for me. I gloss over this, but it is part of the reality that I must acknowledge to loosen the regret and accept that things unfolded the way they were meant to. Accept the trajectory, accept how our lives were created in its wake.

This time when I go, I’m not a young woman seeking adventure or a middle-aged woman still expecting others to direct her life. No. It’s me, seeking to return to the place that is so meaningful—the place that enlivened me and took me out of myself—that started me on my path to being a more compassionate person than if I had stayed in New York.

Now, I’m looking to spend time in the place that has meaning beyond my (a) single life, enhancing my perception of what it means to lead a purposeful, fulfilling life. Perhaps to embrace and absorb and share has always been the point. Perhaps the outsider that I became once I lived in Israel and then returned to the States is how I could fully life my life.

Trepidations for this trip, this journey. It is finally here. This past, this potential. This is me.


Back at School: Volunteering in an Elementary School

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I should have known that I would stop volunteering at the garden when I finally bought gardening gloves. For more than six months I worked bare-handed or wore gloves from a box of cast-offs in the garden’s potting shed. Then, I got my own gloves. I wore them once and now they’re on the floor behind the driver’s seat in my car. I’m trying to decide if I should put them in the trunk, hidden and unneeded, or keep them where they are, a reminder that just because the gloves fit doesn’t mean I have to wear them.

My Wednesday mornings in the garden’s nursery were wonderful. The other volunteers were, generally, the right amount of interesting and talkative to make the morning feel like an outing among friends and not hours repotting plants in the heat. But I began to feel more of an outsider as the other volunteers would talk about their evolving plans for their gardens (or “land” as one referred to her acre) and their familiarity with different plants, while I was only fostering a lone bromeliad on the lanai and uncovering no desire to immerse myself in botany books. I remained a plant lover on a “looks beautiful” basis, not a “Latin name and uses” basis. I also began to wonder if my volunteer hours would be better spent directly helping others, rather than puttering around the garden so it could raise funds through the sale of potted plants. It seems that for me the right volunteer activity needs to effectively blend dedication to cause with personal fulfillment. A true give and get.

So, fun in the garden is out. Tutoring in an elementary school is in.

My Tuesday mid-days are now spent with 1st and 2nd graders in a high poverty school, helping out their teachers and them. Two weeks down. I feel of use there applying some skills, some compassion for the students, some empathy for the teachers, and lots of love being part of the village raising our children. And they are our children, because this isn’t about yours or mine, but about making each child feel valued.

I’m there to help with reading and writing, one-on-one or walking around the room helping whoever needs it at the moment. It is surprising, in a good way, how quickly I feel that I’m part of the group. In the first week, one girl was dismissive, as she had a right to be; after all, who is this new person in our classroom and why do I have to interact with her? This week, when I was at the door ready to leave, she came up and gave me a hug. Momentary mission-accomplished.

Not being the teacher in the classroom responsible for lessons and assessments is freeing. It is a distilled version of teaching, which, distilled even further, is an adult helping a child. Within the two hours I was there, I tied shoelaces, commented on drawings, enthused over sentences, and gave pep-talks on reading, oh, and permission to go to the in-class bathroom. Time well-spent. Experiences like this show me that I made the right move when I became a teacher mid-career (abandoning high-tech marketing writing), because one way my soul expresses itself is by reflecting back to children what is within. It also shows that retirement is the time to fully live that expression—in between a late breakfast and a swim in the pool.

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Pet Love: Protecting Our Hearts

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Since I began dogsitting last year, I have come to appreciate dog owners and the love they give their dogs. Sometimes their dogs substitute for the children they didn’t have and sometimes they substitute for the children they have but who have grown up (and usually moved on) leaving them lacking an immediate object for their affection. Perhaps this is why there seems to be a sadness intermixed with the joy of dog love. (It could also be that many of the dogs I have met are getting older and there is fear of anticipated loss.)

But it is not just love of a specific dog that I note, and I do note that and why not, why not be attentive to the needs of the dog that follows you around, looking at you as if you matter, as if being next to you is always the best place in the house, as if your goings out and comings in are of importance, because they are (and sometimes even commemorated with a treat!). What I see is a need for people to share their love; a need that reaches beyond the specifics of their living arrangements, where even couples who are growing old together no longer show their love or it is simply taken for granted. We need to give and to receive.

We have so much love to give that showering it on a pet who is always grateful and appreciative soothes the ache that grows within many of us as we get older. For so long our lives have been lived within certain parameters—our jobs, our families, our interests, our community—that dog love enables us to reach beyond the intellectual confines we live within and pushes us to acknowledge that we are also a person whose soul, self, essence, being, is a world—a worthy world simply within breath and consciousness. For a dog, our presence is the only needed proof of our existence, and isn’t it a relief to be seen for being me and not as a value to be calculated.

I wonder, though, about the structure of our world, where humanity and inhumanity seem to go hand-in-hand. Why is it that we cannot express this love we have within—the appreciation of our essence—beyond the confines of the animals with whom we live? What would happen if we could share this love with more than the dogs (and cats and other chosen animals) we have in our homes? Where would we be? What is it that gives us the ability to love, but also the inability to share it? Why are we prevented from sharing our true selves?

On yesterday’s morning walk, I encountered a woman who was out looking for her cat who escaped from her cat sitter’s home two weeks ago. She recoiled from this week’s dog, saying that she is not a dog person. I said that he is the perfect dog for a non-dog person, gentle and sweet. She was heartbroken as she told me about her missing cat. I thought RIP, to that cat who was not an outside cat who had probably already been forgotten as a satisfying meal. I felt bad for her, and wondered when she would stop denying the reality of her cat’s demise.

Perhaps this story illustrates why it’s so hard to share our love beyond our homes—beyond those we know love us. We need to protect our hearts, not from expanding, but from collapsing in pain. Perhaps the calculation for humanity is that things will be better for us all when our hope of sharing, of giving, of connecting in love is stronger than our anticipation of hurt, of loneliness, of disappointment, of anger in loss of love.


Hot and Humid Thoughts on a Summer Day in Florida

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View from my a perfect picnic spot

The other day I wanted (more than usual) to disconnect from the cycle of my thoughts and connect with something that lets me step aside from the constant nag to acknowledge, analyze, and assess what’s outside and inside. To not read the newspaper, emails, tweets. To not think about my position and thoughts. To not think beyond the scope of who I am at this moment.

So, I drove to the ocean and sat for about an hour (until the free parking time was up) for a lunch and no-learn. I let myself sit. (I also let myself eat two burritos, which was one too many.)

Happily, I discovered a new beach in Palm Beach where there was ample parking and I could sit under a palm-frond-covered hut over a picnic table instead of on the burning sand with the scorching noonday sun pressing down on my head.

This being Florida and, apparently, land of the iguana, as I turned into one picnic area a huge brown and tan iguana with what looked like a mane of spikes, headed for the bushes when it heard me, but, thankfully, I saw it and I scurried away even faster. I had no desire to share the space with a resentful iguana.

The next picnic area seemed iguana-free, so I sat there. Every few minutes I banged on the picnic table with my palm or water bottle. I didn’t want to see any angry iguana relatives. While there, I was (mainly) at peace (at least as at peace as you can be when you fear lizards lurking nearby).

The waves rolled in and out like breath, enabling me to meditate without needing a mantra or to call myself back to breathe. I caught the waves. The intention that I set for myself was simply to be at peace. How sad that I must force myself to absorb and be part of a scene instead of always demanding that I find a meaning in the moment. (Ah, here I am, doing just that.) But how glorious, too, that my purpose can be to understand what motivates me—a person—when there are no external factors. Now, without a job that constantly overtakes my thoughts, I can be an existentialist, focusing on what I need to find purpose and be purpose.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a library and it’s pouring outside while the thunder rolls and rolls. Another aspect of a summer day in Florida. As much as I may think that one thing defines a place—a person—there are always more dimensions.

I am of myself and of the world. I need to balance between the demands that I put on myself to be myself (just look at my ever-growing pile of books to read, and restaurants to try), and my assertion that one’s purpose is to be of service to others using skills and guided by heart. I need to work on the feeling that time tending to me is not time away from, but time preparing for.


Marriage and Divorce Anniversary: Reflections on Being Alone

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Thirty-seven years ago this week, I got married. Fifteen years ago this week, my divorce was finalized. This week, I’m dogsitting, which means that I’m staying in someone else’s home taking care of their pet. (Coincidentally, the owner went to a wedding.) These three points in time could be the things that I tell someone I’ve just met to explain my life. I can’t decide, though, if this is cause for tears of sadness or joy, or just a bit of bitter self-reflection in which to stew.

It wasn’t easy to have moved on from a failed marriage and a nasty divorce; that took years. Time during which I savored my independence. Time when I also experienced being fully myself and the stillness that is me.

Does the demand that we live in the moment punish us, make us feel we are not doing life the right way, if we live a mainly sedentary, word-engrossed life?

Having moved the day I retired, from Northern Virginia to South Florida, meant that I was starting over, once again. There had been the move from New York to Israel, and then from Israel to Virginia. There had been the change from being single to married to divorced. There was the transition from being a parent with children at home to being a parent who occasionally sees her adult children after long plane trips.

It's good that I forget what I thought my life would be like and accept what it is, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t experience malaise and disappointment. My life is steeped in solitude and knowing that it could have been different, leads to both regret and relief. It also makes me determined to not let inertia win.

This last move seemed so easy: just get into my stuffed car and drive south on I95. But it not only took away the one home I created on my own, it changed relationships with good friends, and meant the loss of acquaintances whose good mornings and hellos were comforting acknowledgements. While I don’t regret the move, I can still experience it as a loss.

The pain of divorce is not just the resulting aloneness, but the feeling of failure at having picked the wrong person, at not being able to make it work, at wondering if I missed what my life should have been. After the divorce, I had two other failed relationships, which just adds to the burden that I carry that I will remain alone, when, sometimes, I wonder if I would be happier with a partner.

It's funny. For a long time, most of my friends were single. Now, mainly because of fallings-out, those women who had been my rocks and activity partners are no longer in my life. My married friends have proven their friendship and over the time that I have known them, I see the solidity and safety they have created with their spouses. Clearly, we are all different and we each have our own path to travel, however circuitous, but to not pause and wonder and feel the moment’s emotions seems that it would be a stop and not part of the journey into my future.

This is a day when I acknowledge that I have so much to be grateful for, but remorse has captured my heart. When I finish writing and posting this, I feel that tears will no longer be held back by the process of trying to understand. What is there to understand? I made choices and I am living with the result. All is well. Though I ache for change and I know, oh, yes, I definitely do, that it is up to me to do what I must to not face regret more than joy.


Dementia at the Doctor’s Office

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Wakodahatchee Wetlands

JOHN*. MOVE. NOW. NO. JOHN. JOHN. STOP. JOHN. STOP. NO. MOVE.

That was the background “conversation” at the doctor’s office the other day when I went for my annual. One old White woman in a wheelchair, a late middle-aged White man pushing her, and her young Black aide. I did a double-take at them when I heard the man say something to the receptionist about his wife because she looked much older than him, her husband, who I thought was her son, a very good son.

When I was brought back to an examining room, the nurse and I could still hear her shouting. I said something about how hard it is to hear the woman yelling at her husband so harshly. The nurse said that the woman hadn’t always been like that, that she had been a lovely person. Apparently, the anger is an expression of her dementia. It was upsetting to be witness to such an open display of what would normally be hidden in one’s home and to see what dementia can do to a person, that memory loss is also a loss of self.

Up until COVID put a stop to visits, I was a hospice volunteer for about a year. During, that time, I visited a few patients with dementia. Since some of them lived in a memory care unit in a senior living community, I saw other people with dementia when I visited them. In all that time, I hadn’t seen anyone so hostile, though there had been glimmers of insistence and impatience. Hearing her was scarier than when one woman called me “Mother.” If the harshness is not uncommon, then perhaps the angry patients there were in their rooms or medicated or taken care of differently.

Weekly for most of that year, I visited a man whose wife visited him daily. She used my weekly visits as a little break for herself—she would go an hour later to be with him. She was watchful over the aides and took care of him like a mother hen. The situation, his dementia and other health issues, took a heavy toll on her, even with the help he received. It was so hard to see that everything she did was from her love of him, while he was sunk into his own world. I couldn’t imagine how the husband in the doctor’s office was managing when it seemed that it was just him and one aide. Not just the work of taking care of her physically, but the drain on him to care for this woman who had taken over his wife. How does a person keep going, keep giving from love, when the spousal relationship no longer exists? Is the connection at the soul-level or the commitment and vows level, so that the nature of the relationship no longer matters?

One of the things that I learned that year of volunteering was how difficult it is for a spouse or child to care for a loved one who is sick, especially with dementia. It was relentless, harder than caring for an infant. There is no positive trajectory to expect or a break in demands when independence comes, and, perhaps, too, it is hard knowing that all the love and care you give will be unrequited. Not that we do things to be appreciated, but this is a truly selfless love, where your giving takes so much from you—even if you don’t think of it that way. There are so many things that can push a person into being fully committed to another to practically blanking of the self, even if it is temporary. Maybe my thoughts say more about my fears, than they do about this man and his patience.

Perhaps I’m focusing on this because it’s a fear that naturally comes when a parent is in their 80s. My mother’s memory and sense of self are firmly intact. Sure, she forgot what time her haircut was a few times, but I would forget that, too, if I didn’t put it into my calendar. Knowing that she took care of her mother and my father when they were sick at the end of their lives and that I said I would do the same for her scares me. Living with her, seeing this woman who would walk at a New York City pace now hesitant to walk from the living room to the kitchen concerns me, makes me anxious about the future. We each have tests, a lifetime of tests. Some we pass; some confuse us; some we learn from the hard way; and some we anticipate or fear, but hope that we won’t disappoint ourselves and those we love.

* Not his real name.  


Still Being Asked “What Do You Do?”

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The “What do you do?” questions have not stopped being asked. And I’ve decided that it’s a good thing.

Last week I went to an event to meet other Jewish women who are members or potential members of an organization that helps women and girls. It was a glad-I-went event, where I met interesting, enthusiastic women and I’m excited to see where this will lead, regarding the organization’s work and my involvement. Besides the regular committee work, I also volunteered to help with their communications, after meeting with the director who bemoaned the poor grammar skills of people applying for content writing jobs.

I’ve gotten used to mainly meeting retired people who ask, “Where are you from?” so that when I was asked repeatedly, “What do you do?” I realized that I need to come up with a better answer. Saying that “I’m a retired teacher,” was met with confusion. It’s not just that I retired relatively young, it’s that people assume that being retired means that I don’t do anything, except lunch with the ladies and maintain my health (which are not bad in the big scheme of things). It seems wrong to them that I have opted out. Assumptions about retirement, and what people should do, abound even here in Retirementland (southern Florida).

Beyond the retirement part, I also realize that I don’t want to identify myself as a teacher. I enjoyed being a teacher and, in many ways, it saved me when I was going through my divorce and needed a job. It enabled me to have purpose, as well as financial and job security. Moreover, I’m a better person after having taught because it forced me to become more outgoing, compassionate, and thoughtful. So, I’m definitely thankful to teaching.

Continuing on the idea developed in previous blog posts that what I do for a living doesn’t define me, I realize that I need to come up with a better answer. Teaching was my last job. It was never a life goal; it was unintentional and, thankfully, it worked out for me. Ultimately, it was a way to make a living. (Imagine if you didn’t need the money from your job. Would you still do it? I probably would have lasted a few years as a teacher, but not as long as I did.) But even if it had been my only career and I fully identified as a teacher, shouldn’t I imagine myself in another way—not job-as-identity—as I embark on this next phase(s?) of life? Isn’t that what retirement should mean?

Knock on wood, I live for another few decades, decades that would represent a significant portion of my life. They will probably be the most intentional years that I live. The major milestones are in my past: to go to college, to have a career, to get married, to buy a house, to raise wonderful children. Those accomplishments required that I focus outside of myself, while now I can focus on what I need, so that when I go to bed at night, I don’t berate myself for wasting another day. I’m hoping that my time going forward is a true expression of self. So far, besides when I’m wasting my time, I’ve been reading and writing, interacting with the people who are important to me, using my skills to help others, and learning new things (a lifelong learner, another definition of a teacher!). So, what does that make me? “I do what I need to do to feel good about myself by sharing my thoughts, and trying to make the world safer and more equitable.” Wordy. “I’m focused on self-expression and community betterment.” Pretentious. “I write and volunteer.” Devoid of meaning: what do those words mean in this context? Clearly, I’m still working on this, and that’s ok. I’m in no rush. Sometimes I really am using my time fully.


Retirement & Year One in Florida: Some Observations on Living in the Heat

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Sitting on the balcony on this light-clouds, gentle-breeze morning, looking out over the golf course, it should be relaxing, but it’s not. The throbbing sound of the riding lawn mower as it works its way around the palm trees, coming CLOSER and then receding, LOUDER then not-as-loud, LOUD not-as-loud, CUTS the image of pleasure to one of unpleasantness. This, I have decided, is an apt metaphor for retired life in Florida.

The weather is generally lovely, but there are hitches. It rains a lot, and it can come down so hard that you can barely see where you’re driving. Then it stops, or you reach the edge of that cloud, and it’s back to a sunny day. Unless, of course, you drive into the path of another rain cloud.

It was generally so hot or warm or comfortable this past year, that except for two weeks, I didn’t need to wear a sweater outside, though I certainly needed one in the over air-conditioned stores and restaurants. I have a long-sleeved shirt and a lightweight jacket in my car at all times. I know that this is not just a Florida problem, but the difference between the temperature inside and outside is so stark that it’s a jolt to the system and the cold feels so darn cold.

In the summer, in the height of heat and humidity season, the air presses down on you. It’s uncomfortable to be outside. You gasp for air as your pores respond by dripping with sweat the moment you step outside. It’s so hot here that I can’t remember the last time I saw someone wearing jeans. It’s just not done. And, in the summer it’s hard to sit outside to dine on a lovely home or restaurant patio, even with a fan going, because it can end with a headache and a big take-home box, because who can eat in the heat.

I’m still getting used to encountering lizards and iguanas of all kinds scurrying away as I walk anywhere (and looking out for alligators). No need to go to a nature preserve to see them. Curled tails and straight tails, bright green or more subtle shades, they all make me realize that I really do live in the tropics, even if the palm trees and heavy air didn’t, but they make it fun, in a kid-at-the-zoo kind of way. The occasional squirrel who moved down here seems so out-of-place. Which brings me to the snow birds, who surely are the smartest people around. Why stay here year-round if you can escape somewhere during this ridiculous heat, and escape the snow of that other place for the winter warmth down here.

Those of us who are here all year round, not only are we aware that the summer is hot, but it’s also hurricane season, so there’s an underlying tension or anticipation. The meteorologists seem to be giddy with potential, though I’m hoping that the only hurricanes I have to experience are ones that I already lived through in Virginia. There are hurricane shutters, but even on a regular windy day, it sounds like a wind tunnel in here. Today, there has been no hurricane talk. No, today there is talk about sand from Africa suppressing the rain. I guess there’s always something.

In the category of living in a 55+ community, there is the benefit of a mainly childfree pool, except when there are visiting relatives, which is generally during the holidays (and, unfortunately, yesterday). I can live with that. The no jumping, no splashing, no floating into swimmers, the no screaming Mommy Mommy Mommy Papa Papa Papa watch watch watch makes seeing the evolution of the body (both male and female) in all its 55+ stages a beautiful alternative.

Speaking of the bevy of bellied pool patrons, I would like to tell them that it is not a badge of honor to be in the pool at 3 in the afternoon when there’s nary a cloud in the sky, the sun a blazing ball, and the temperature at 91, but feels like 102 because of the 57% humidity. You have the entire day, so why would you torment your body at precisely the worst time? Can you not change your card game or golf game or coffee meeting or lunch date or dinner plans? I fear people schedule their days around mealtimes. I would like to tell them that mealtimes can be changed. Once you’re a teacher and you’re given a 10:30 lunch schedule, you realize that time is externally imposed and you should eat when you want to eat. Personally, if I have breakfast at 7, I see no reason why I can’t set my lunch flag down at 11 without feeling that I will be disdained for being on the early bird special. But the swimmers (no not swimmers, they are pool walkers or pool talkers), well, it seems that they figure if they made it this far in living they can forget about sunblock or worrying about what the sun will do to their already leathery skin and lightheaded heads, and just do what they feel like, consequences be darned.

Which brings me to the end of this first set of insights on living in Florida. Being new to a place is great because you see things with a different lens than someplace where you’ve been living for a while and become accustomed to. What kind of interesting things stand out to you about where you live?