Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

I have a doctor's appointment this morning. This is not one of those that you schedule months in advance for your regular checkup. This is one of those where you call and tell them you really need to see the doctor now

I'm not ill, exactly, I just get the sense that something's not right (no smart ass comments, please). For weeks I've been going to bed around 9 p.m. (occasionally earlier), and even though I sleep between 9-10 hours a night, there are still days where I honestly don't know how I'm going to keep my head from hitting the desk in the middle of the afternoon. Then there are my aches and pains. Everyday, even if it's been a week since my last workout, I find there's always something that hurts.

The impetus for today's appointment, however, is my memory loss. While I've had plenty of those "walk into a room and have no idea why" experiences, lately I find myself forgetting something in a matter of seconds. Usually it's harmless enough: Did I put on deodorant just five seconds ago? A sniff solves that mystery. But two nights ago I took my daily medication, which I keep in an old-person daily pill case, and literally seconds later I couldn't remember if I had already taken it. I looked at the day on the pill case and for some reason I was completely befuddled. Without much thought, I took my daily medication. Again. As a result, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., developed a serious case of sweating and trembling hands, and cried. Obviously anti-depressants do NOT make you happier if you take more of them than prescribed. 

So yes, I'm seeing the doctor today and while my self-diagnosis is Lyme's disease (based on the fatigue and aches and pains, plus the weird red spot on my stomach, and the fact that I've found ticks in the house courtesy of the cat), I can almost guarantee that the doctor will put fatigue, aches and pains, and forgetfulness together and diagnosis me with "growing old." He's said it before. Sometimes I think he doesn't take me seriously. I know one of you is going to tell me to find a new doctor, but this appears to be a common problem (hmm...the doctor's being nonchalant or the growing old thing?). 

This past summer, my father fell off the dock in the marina next to his boat. He seriously bruised one side of his torso and thought he had broken a finger. A visit to his physician resulted in an exchange that went something like this:

Doc: What happened?
Dad: Well, I fell stepping onto the dock. I think...
Doc: (cutting him off) You fell because you're getting older. You think you can still do all the things you used to do and the reality is that you can't. You need to slow down.

My father told me later that what he was about to tell the doctor, before he was rudely interrupted, was that he'd had a dizzy spell, which obviously contributed to the fall. Was the dizzy spell the result of age or an entirely separate issue that the doctor took no time to diagnose?

My father and I are alike in many ways, including our refusal to "go gentle into that good night." My dad is 73-years old and hasn't given up a single thing that I've always known him to do. I guarantee that if I could get my hands on a set of water skis and a boat to tow him, he'd happily give it a go. About the only thing he's saying no to these days is amusement park rides, and that happens to most of us when we hit our 40s and spinning things make us want to puke.

Riding roller coasters and boogie boarding are my two main "I am not too old" holdouts. The roller coasters usually leave me needing a chiropractor, and the boogie board may plant me face down in the sand (if I actually manage to catch a wave), but I refuse to say no to what have been sources of great pleasure since I was a kid. My greatest fear is that if I skip just one summer at the amusement park or decline one afternoon in the ocean, I may never return to them again. 

The more seniors I meet, the more I believe that, while growing older is inevitable, there's nothing to say that we have to "get old." We can't control the years, but we do have a say in how we live them. The topic of our aging parents came up in a recent conversation with friends, and the general consensus was that attitude has almost as much to do with the quality of life in our later years as our physical health. I shared about my parents, and my friend told me about his mom, who recently passed away, but whose zest for life had made her such a joy to spend time with. Conversely, his father, who is in fine health, has relegated himself to old man status. 

Some folks seemingly decide overnight that they can no longer do what they did before, and they stop living in the fullest sense of the word. I'm not saying that those who truly can't should fake it, or put themselves or others in harm's way by doing what they should no longer do, but when it's fear that shuts us down, it's sad. 

I often find myself wondering, when I'm old (what age is that exactly?) will I still...

  • Put my feet up on the dashboard of the car or stick them out the window?
  • Dance around the kitchen to make my kids laugh (at me, not with me)?
  • Eat raw cookie dough and lick the spoon when Abby makes cake or icing?
  • Sing along at full volume with every song on the radio?
  • Laugh with complete abandon at funny movies, even in a theater full of people?
  • Hoot and holler at my grandkids' sporting events (if my mom is any indication, that would be "yes")?
  • Act in church skits, or maybe I'll have advanced to community theater by then?
  • Want to prove myself on water skis?

Well, it's about time for that doctor's appointment. I'm tempted to secretly tape the conversation. How much do you want to bet that he tells me I'm fine and that my symptoms are all part of getting old growing older? 

I'll be sure to let you know.

Friday, October 17, 2014

At Your Service

We Older folks tend to grumble about "young people," those teens and young adults who are seemingly minutes away from running the country right into the ground.
"They're lazy."
"They're whiners."
"They expect to have everything handed to them."
While these frustrating faces of the next generation do exist (and I'm sure our elders felt the same way about us), the one thing I can say about today's teens and young adults is that they do a better job of caring for others than my generation ever did. Personally, the concept of "service" wasn't even on my radar at that age, whereas kids today seem to grow up understanding and accepting the call to help those in need. For many, this begins when mom and dad ask party guests to bring an item for charity instead of a birthday gift (personally, the jury's still out on that one).
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."                          -- Mahatma Gandhi
Today, service is a requirement for graduation from our high schools. It's part of what qualifies you for National Honor Society. It's what admissions folks expect to see on your college application. And here's the kicker: I know thousands of kids who continue to serve well after it benefits them on paper.

Okay, I don't know thousands of them personally, but I've seen them in action.

"Service" has been the name of the game in my world for the past few weeks. It started with St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service (STVDS) on September 27, followed by our friends' Ride for Autism Speaks, then last weekend's Ann's Love Builds and the Ride to Conquer Cancer. This past week, Villanova students spent their fall break serving around the region and around the world. And, the entire 8th grade year at Abby's school is dedicated to supporting Cradles to Crayons.

Villanova University's commitment to service isn't just some warm and fuzzy phrase in the promotional material. It's the real deal. STVDS drew 4,300 students, faculty and staff who engaged in service at 140 sites in the greater Philadelphia area. Last weekend, 600 students gathered in St. Thomas of Villanova Church for a blessing and dedication before leaving for their fall service trips.

Then there are my personal friends who do amazing things to care for others. The Fischers put together an annual ride that brings out dozens of bikers to benefit Autism Speaks, and youth are among the many volunteers. At Christmas, a party invitation comes with a request that we bring coats to donate to a local charity. (Not nearly as tacky as asking us to bring food.)

In honor of my friend Ann Bates who lost her battle with brain cancer three years ago this November, Ann's Love Builds continues its annual day of service in her memory. This year, more than 100 people turned out at six different work sites from Princeton to Media as a way of celebrating Ann's life and dedication to caring for others. I spent the morning at a home with 20+ youth and adults whose goal was to provide wheelchair access for a man who recently became a paraplegic. Work included gutter cleaning and guards, trench digging for drainage, and painting the home's basement. In North Philly, Princeton lacrosse players (Ann's husband Chris is the coach) worked at a homeless shelter. Tell me that wasn't a life changing experience for those young men, many of whom grew up having the best of everything.

At the same time Ann's Love was building, Rob was riding his bike, over 130 miles in two days, to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. A fitting tribute to Ann and the millions who lose their battle with cancer each year.

These days, when we consider the state of our country and the world, what first comes to mind are the negatives: our government, debt, terrorism, the economy, ebola, hunger, violence, you name it. It's nice to be able to point to the good that is happening in communities everywhere, thanks to a new generation's commitment to care.

  • Teenagers volunteer 2.4 billion hours annually – worth $34.3 billion to the US economy.
  • Youth volunteering has increased steadily over the past ten years, with 30% of youth participating in volunteer activities at least once a month in 2000. 
  • Out of 13.3 million youth, 59.3% volunteer an average of 3.5 hours per week, versus 49% of the adult population 
Benefits of Volunteering:

  • Youth who volunteer just one hour or more a week are 50% less likely to abuse alcohol, cigarettes, become pregnant, or engage other destructive behavior.
  • Teens say the benefits received from volunteering are: Learning to respect others; learning to be helpful and kind; learning to understand people who are different; developing leadership skills, becoming more patient, and better understanding of citizenship.
  • Youth who volunteer are more likely to do well in school, graduate and vote.
  • Young people involved in community service are more likely to have a strong work ethic as an adult.
  • Youth who volunteer are three times more likely to volunteer as adults.
  • 81% of Americans who have volunteer experiences when they are young give to charitable organizations as adults.
"The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams,
but in active charity and in willing service
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I Feel the Need, the Need to Please

You know how some people let everything roll off their back, never taking offense or worrying about what others think? Well, I'm at the other end of the spectrumI take everything personally, at least as it relates to suggestions, recommendations or choices I make that affect others. This is especially evident when it comes to entertainment and leisure time options, which clearly makes this particular aspect of my neuroses of great importance (or at least of mild interest for a blog post). Some examples:
  • I ask my husband or a friend to accompany me to a movie of my choosing. I then worry about whether they like it, thereby rendering myself unable to enjoy the film.
  • I encourage a friend to read a book that I thought was terrific. They tell me later that they tried for months to get into it and finally gave up. I am now partner to the crime of spending too much time on a lousy read when there are gazillions of other books that that individual could have been spending time with.
  • I laugh hysterically (a frequent occurrence) at the TV show I'm watching. I take occasional glances at Rob, seated on the couch next to me, to see whether he's even cracking a smile. I feel stupid if he's not equally amused. 
  • I invite a friend to church (it could happen!) and the pastor's sermon is mediocre at best. I am annoyed with the pastor myself for choosing this particular Sunday to bring a guest, and decide I shall never again be party to Christian outreach or evangelism.
  • I recommend a restaurant for dinner that I generally enjoy. The service is terrible and the food is mediocre at best. I'm embarrassed and feel badly and consider paying for my friend's meal (but then reject the idea because I'm cheap).
In one final, wacky example, I actually feel lousy if I introduce one friend to another friend and they don't exactly hit it off. Then I'm forced to decide which friend is most likely to blame and whether I need to dump the below average friend. Awkward.
The one thing these examples have in common is that the product or service (or person) being delivered has not been produced by me. I experience guilt and regret for recommendations that miss the mark, however, I am not actually responsible for the content. But when I am...

If I'm this loony about suggestions and recommendations, you can imagine my reaction when something I have personally created is not appreciated or enjoyed. Blog posts, for example. You know how it hurts my feelings when you don't "like" them. And do you have any idea how much a comment on the blog itself would mean to me? We've talked about this before. Let's go people. 

Technology has undoubtedly affected our sense of self. We determine our self worth by the number of likes, shares, favorites and comments we receive on any given day. Consider the selfies that teenage girls post on Instagram. Some experts see them as self-esteem boosters that help girls determine the identity they feel most comfortable with. It's all contingent, however, on the undeniable power of likes and retweets. An article in Time magazine reported:
"For a teenage girl, receiving likes on Instagram or Facebook can be seen as an endorsement that they are beautiful, from people who are within their social circle. Comments are there to compliment one’s appearance in a way that doesn't normally happen in a typical personal encounter."
Teen Vogue (of all places) notes that likes and comments that build self-esteem can crush it as well:
"After all, if two photos are postedthe first with nine likes and the second with two likes, some girls could perceive this as feeling less valued."  
But lest we get too serious, let's bring this back to me and my issues. Aside from my blog posts, I've become truly sensitive to the loss of "likes" and followers for the social media that I manage for my employer. The joy of adding 19 new fans can be completely overshadowed by losing one. My spirit is completely crushed when a reader opts out of receiving an e-newsletter that I produce. Every day is just another opportunity for virtual rejection.

What's rather interesting in this crazy self-absorbed analysis, is that, when it comes to me as a person, I'm increasingly less affected by others' opinions. With the exception of being perceived as unkind or just plain unlikable (you cut me deep, Shrek; you cut me very deep), I don't care so much what others think about me personally. As long as my Facebook likes don't dip below 500, I figure I'm okay. But seriously, if someone considers me outspoken (session members at church), obnoxious (other soccer moms), or a party pooper (anyone who's attended a party that I left early), I can shrug it off with a "who needs them anyway?" It just so happens that at this very moment, the issue of what others think is causing a disagreement between Rob and me. Since he loves when I bring him into my blog, allow me to explain:

Every October for the past several years, Rob and I have hosted a bonfire with friends. And since the beginning, invites to this shindig have included a "what to bring" list for guests. The deal has been that we provide the beer, chili, hot dogs and fire, and guests sign up to contribute food and drinks including soda, chips, soft pretzels, salads, finger food, desserts, water bottles, etc. This approach offers several benefits:
  1. I don't need to cook. I don't like cooking and my cooking stinks, so everyone wins when I don't do it.
  2. I don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on food and drink. Kegs are expensive enough.
  3. I don't have to respond to dozens of "what should I bring" inquiries that leave me wondering what guests really will bring, thereby requiring me to cover all bases just to be safe.
  4. No one feels guilty taking advantage of the generous donation of my yard debris to build an illegal fire.
The issue is that Rob, after having had this party for many years, now informs me that he thinks asking guests to bring something is tacky. And this/my tackiness is the reason why he always invites his coworkers personally rather than allowing me to include them on the Evite. I think Rob is a snob, as is any coworker or friend who is turned off by my request. Frankly, if that's your reaction, don't come. I can't imagine that any of my true friends, the people I most enjoy spending time with, think or feel that way.

I know my sister agrees with Rob. She would never have a party and ask people to bring something, but then my sister is a snob, too. What I want to know is how the rest of you feel. Do you think this is inappropriate, given the setting and casual nature of the event (we're not talking about a cocktail party, for which I would only request bottles of wine :-))? 

Since having learned how Rob feels about this, I am childishly refusing to have anything to do with the bonfire. If he thinks we shouldn't ask guests to chip in (literally!), then he can handle the whole megillah and I'll protest by going to the movies.  

I realize that it's ironic to ask who you think is right after trying to convince myself you that I don't care what others think of me personally. But alas, the future of this much-loved event rests on your response. No pressure.

Monday, September 22, 2014

College-Prep Chronicles, Volume 2: The Mom Meltdown

Ian’s transformation occurred just a week or two before his junior year began.  He noted that school was going to be hard, stressful and overwhelming, and he appeared to be bracing himself for the challenges to come. I’ve faced many moments in life with this approach:  Tell yourself something is going to be absolutely awful so that there’s a chance it will be better than you expect.

It’s been super surprising terrific to see Ian approaching his year with a great deal of focus and hard work. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating when I say that he’s more than doubled the amount of time he’s spending on school work each night. It’s as if he just sailed through the past 10 years with little to no effort, and someone (other than his parents, of course) told him this is the year to get your act together. Whatever it was that spurred him on, I’m happy to see the change.

Unfortunately, I’m unhappy at how unprepared I am for Ian’s junior year. I thought I knew what I was doing, and lo and behold I’m actually falling behind. Last week’s back-to-school night threw me into a tizzy.

Let’s talk about back-to-school night, shall we? I’m starting to think it causes post-traumatic stress flashbacks. In my case, to the mid-to-late 80s. The insecurities, fears, concerns and need to compete are the same, only I weigh 20 pounds more and have to color my hair every 6 months weeks to cover the gray. Here are just a few examples of my neuroses what I’ve gone through each year at this time:
  • When Ian was a freshman, I felt overwhelmed and insignificant among the other parents who all seemed so much more grown up than me to know what was going on. As I’ve gotten older Ian has advanced, I've become more comfortable, and now I like to look down upon the lowly freshmen parents and laugh at their angst.
  • I worry about my hair, my breakouts and my clothing. Am I out of style? Are my jeans too tight? Do I have enough cover-up on that zit? Do I look younger or older than the other moms?
  • I bemoan the fact that I can no longer take part in the extracurriculars, or even some of the interesting classes our kids get to take these days. I wonder “Would I make the Silvertones?” “Would I get a solo?” “What about the school musical? Would I have a speaking part?” “Would I make it past the first round in the speech & debate competition?” “Could I get into a great college?” And it occurs to me that if I had had the opportunity to take AP Psychology in high school, that creepy college professor could never have hit on me because I wouldn't have taken his class.  
Getting into college is what’s really stressing me out these days. I had a plan: PSATs in October. See how I do. I mean see how Ian does. If he needs a prep course, we’ll sign him up. If not, awesome. Okay, it’s not much of a plan. Not only am I missing a few steps, but I’m behind the other kids. I mean the other parents. And it turns out there are tests I Ian should take that I’ve never even heard of.  A subject-specific SAT?? Well, yes, Kim, if you had taken any college tours (“I can’t believe you haven’t taken any tours yet”) you’d know that some of them require the subject SAT. No, that’s not instead of the standard SAT, it’s in addition. And don’t forget about the AP tests. Most honors students enter their first year of college with 15 credits under their belt, thanks to AP courses. Oh, and you should really take the AP Spanish course this spring since you have Spanish 4 now. If you wait until next year, with our block scheduling, it will be that much harder to remember everything you learned.

This is why my finger nails look like a dog’s chew toy.

So other kids’ parents have taken them to visit colleges by now. Some already have taken the SAT and the subject SAT and the ACT and the prep courses. Some are talking to admissions counselors to make sure Susie and Bobby are on track for acceptance to their preferred Ivy. How is it I've fallen so far behind??? What if Ian doesn't get into Yale or Princeton and he has to go Swarthmore or Haverford instead? What if he has to actually use mom’s benefits and go to Villanova? What will I tell my friends if Ian doesn't live up to their my expectations his potential? The peer pressure is overwhelming. 

What’s most important is that Ian doesn't disappoint me get a sense of my hysteria. That he remains calm, cool and collected with his nose to the grindstone, taking one day at a time as I've been wisely advising him to do.

He can leave the advanced freaking out to me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Egyptian Rat Screw and Sister Sightings

"As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be." The doxology or a statement about mothers and daughters?

My sister Dawn.
I mean my daughter Abby.
I am the mother of a daughter. An incredibly bright, ambitious and talented 13 year-old. I am thankful that my relationship with Abby has been pretty darn good to this point. And, if I can avoid becoming competitive with my own child, we might just get along fine for the foreseeable future.

I have been envious of Abby's superior athletic ability since she was about five. Her math skills have impressed me since elementary school. The cool confidence and drama-free nature she possesses have been a pleasant surprise, particularly given her mother's dramatic tendencies. She knows her way around baked goods. And her desire to work hard and make a good impression are a source of pride. More recently, I've become aware with more than a little jealousy of Abby's cute teenage figure, which takes me back 30 years to when I was a stick-shaped dork, resenting girls like her.

While all of her qualities are enough to make anyone sick envious want to take her down a peg feel the need to strive to compete, what most gets to me about Abby is her resemblance to my sister Dawn. It's not so much a physical resemblance, but more about personality, attitude and character. It scares me how often I look at her and see my sister. The facial expressions are the same. The things she says and the way she says them is frighteningly similar. Where this causes me particular concern is with regard to their corresponding level of competitiveness. And this just happens to be one of the few things I have in common with my sister. So, if A = D and D = K, what must be true of A and K? Hey look! It's your first math problem of the new school year!

Being four years apart, Dawn and I didn't compete so much in school, but in any setting where we did interact, there was an unspoken desire to kick each others' asses outperform the other. The problem was is that I had have a soft spot that my sister didn't doesn't possess, which means she was is always able to get the better of me. The perfect example of when/where this competition reared its ugly head? The Monopoly board. Dawn was is vicious and ruthless and always had has to have the ship. She would will sucker me into making lousy deals. And, I don't think she ever lost loses.

The first indication that Abby and I might have issues? A game of cards. Not just any game of cards, but a game with the eyebrow-raising name "Egyptian Rat Screw." This is a game of memory and response time, requiring a heightened level of awareness and an above average ability to slap cards. Skills which have weakened in me with each passing year. Skills which Abby has in abundance. And did I mention we're both competitive?

It started out civilly enough. Abby taught me the rules of the game, and for about 10 minutes I behaved as an adult/parent. But then my child transformed before my very eyes and I saw Dawn sitting across from me with that confident smirk that said loud and clear, "You're going down!" And all hell broke loose. I refused to take any more beatings and I let it all out. Yelling. Aggressive card slapping. Profanities. Insults. It was when I told her "I'm surprised you have any friends; you're so mean!" that Abby brought me back to reality with "Mom! I can't believe you said that!" Oops. My bad.

You would think that would have been enough to snap me out of it, but the ugly continued, ultimately reaching its pinnacle when I demanded an impartial judge to make rulings on whose hand hit the deck first. Rob and Ian wisely declined to enter into our melee, leaving only one option: videotaping. We set up the iPad to record, and within minutes were in another disagreement as to who had won a hand. We turned to the iPad for answers. We watched the recording. And went back and watched the recording. And slowed it down frame by frame and watched the recording. And we still couldn't agree on who had won. We abandoned the videotaping. Abby won the game. I had a small tantrum, and that was that. I am happy to report that I have behaved much more appropriately during subsequent games, except when I won that one time. Then I did a little whooping and hollerin' and happy dance and told Abby she was a loser. Just kidding. I didn't do a happy dance. That's just immature.

I'll admit that I still see the ghost of my sister every now and then. Occasionally in my cat who is either aloof or nasty, but most often in Abby. I try to ward off the panic that results at these sightings by reminding myself that I am an adult and no matter how successful she is or how much she resembles Dawn, Abby is my child. This means I will always delude myself into believing have the upper hand...

...As long as I don't challenge her in baking, soccer, softball, clarinet, guitar, math or card games. From now on, I think we'll stick to Scrabble and Boggle. I can beat my sister daughter at those.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Has Anyone Seen My Mind? It Seems to Be Missing.

Have you ever wondered if you're losing your mind? I certainly have, and on more than one occasion. Last night being one of them. As I seriously consider the possibilities that this is happening to me, I find myself wondering if people who lose their minds actually realize it, or, does the fact that I'm asking mean that I'm not. And what does it mean to lose ones mind anyway?

On one hand I have real concerns that I'm headed for early onset dementia. Sure, everyone forgets what they walked into a certain room for, and forgotten names of folks you don't see that often is normal, but it's worse than that for me. I will completely blank on the names of people I'm close to. I  can't recall the title of that book, movie, or TV show to save my life (there goes my trivia game show dream). I remember dates and times wrong. My "brain farts" happen so frequently that I'm getting used to the smell.

Then there's the "crazy" side of losing ones mind. While I feel like my depression symptoms are, for the most part, under control, lately I'm wondering if I'm bipolar or just ridiculously moody. It's like my teenage and young adult years all over again. Come to think of it, I should call my college roommates to apologize. Anyway, last night I went from having a grand ole time with friends to walking a mile home at 11 p.m. because I was angry for no particularly good reason. (Though you'd think by now that husbands would know not to ask their wives, "What's your problem?" in that tone of voice. At least when the kids ask why I'm in a bad mood it's an innocent, albeit foolish, mistake.)

So what is my problem exactly? Well, that's the thing. Looking at the big picture, I have no problems. I have a job, a home, my health, my parents' health, my kids' health, a good great husband, and food for the table (when I actually go grocery shopping). But close up, everything is a problem. I have moments (they last no more than an hour, tops) where I try to be adult and not complain about life to my friends (whom I will be lucky to still call "friends" after my increasingly bad behavior), but ultimately I succumb to all the sh*t that's dragging me down:

Missed deadlines
Divorce news
Family obligations
To do lists
Job searches
Cancer treatments

Some of that has nothing to do with me personally. But it's affecting people I care about and that affects me. I'm well aware that this is the same sh*t that's dragging down nearly everyone I know, but it's just that I feel everything so much more acutely. I recently asked Rob if he thinks everyone experiences the world like I do (albeit without talking/blogging about it), and his immediate answer was "No." No thoughtful consideration required before responding. Isn't he the lucky one to have married me!

You're probably (hopefully) thinking that I'm normal and that this is life. You might say that every mom of a teenager goes through this crap, but I think it'd be so much easier if I didn't jump on the roller coaster with them. I can literally go from happy to bitch in 3.5 seconds. One minute I'll be dreaming of the day when the kids are out of the house and Rob and I can downsize and move somewhere warm and live happily ever after. The next minute I'm seriously doubting that I can stand even one more day together, listening to him pass gas breathe. The poor guy never knows who he's coming home to and a spouse can only be patient for so long. Hence, my walk home last night.

I realize that this post is probably better suited for my personal journal (yes, can you believe there are things I actually keep personal!), but these worries kept me tossing and turning last night and I guess I'm hoping someone will say that they get it, that they've been there, too.

That I'm not losing my mind.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

So a Celebrity Died and People Wept

I'll be honest. I've always thought that people who are dumbstruck ("dumb" being the operative word) by celebrities are pretty sad. Is your life so pathetic that you need to keep up with the Kardashians or keep it "real" with the Housewives of Name-that-Place? Even if you are not personally supporting this sickness, there clearly are too many Americans who are fascinated with the lives of the rich and famous. How else would we end up with these ridiculous people on our TV and movie screens?

Need further proof that we are way too interested in the world of celebrities? People is the top selling magazine in this country. There are 46.6 million so-called adults who choose People as a source of reading material. That subscription costs over $100 a year. I know, because I've priced it. I'll admit that I enjoy an occasional issue, but I only look at it for the pictures. I swear.

Then there are those who go well beyond checking out Tinseltown's awards ceremony gowns. Some will search for celebrity homes, stalk them for photos and autographs, and even visit their grave sites. Our reaction to the death of celebrities is especially disconcerting to me. I have never understood the wailing, weeping and homage paid at the death of someone famous. Folks leaving flowers, candles, stuffed animals and photos at meaningful sites? I don't get it. Unless you knew John Lennon, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix or Marilyn Monroe personally, why would you react this way? There are reports of fans committing suicide when Michael Jackson died. Why do you mourn those whom you have never loved and in most cases, never met? You may have been touched by their performances, but is that enough to justify the tears? I see the irony in that statement -- me suggesting that tears need to be justified.

Part of the reason I am turned off by our reaction to the deaths of famous people is that it seems to speak volumes about what matters to us. We cry over lost lives in Hollywood and read every tribute and bit of gossip about those lost souls, but we're quick to turn the page or change the channel when we see photos and hear the stories of hundreds and thousands who are dying from disease and violence in countries we can't find on a map.

But then Robin Williams died.

I did not know him personally, but I still cried when I heard the news. And the more I read about his death, the more tears I shed. I cried because he was still in his prime and had much more to give. I cried because he made me laugh and it hurts to lose someone who gives us the gift of laughter. But perhaps the main reason I cried is because, as a friend of mine said, if Robin Williams couldn't fight the demons of depression, even with every resource at his disposal, what chance do the rest of us have?

If anything good can come from the loss of one of the world's comic geniuses, let it be that the conversation about mental illness continues and that in our darkest moments we recall this line from the Walt Whitman poem "O Me! O Life!" spoken by Robin Williams in one of his most extraordinary movies, The Dead Poet's Society:

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;  
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.