Three More Birthday Wishes

Last year, on primary election day in Pennsylvania, I listed three wishes for my 68th birthday: a fair electoral system, a world where my grandchildren and their children and grandchildren can survive and thrive, and the ability to age well. I won’t comment on the progress on those three wishes except to say that at least two of them appear to be “wishes deferred” for now. Today, on my 69th birthday, I’m adding three more birthday wishes.

I wish for more success in following the advice of the psalmist to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10). In a topsy-turvy world that often feels unstable and unpredictable and where a lot of wrong seems to be prevailing (or, in the language of Psalm 46, a world where “the mountains shake in the heart of the sea” and “nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter”), it’s difficult for me to be still. There is so much going on that disturbs me: consumer, environmental, and health protections being undone or in serious danger; ongoing assaults on the foundations of democracy, like a free press and voting rights; threats of draconian budget cuts to important programs that meet needs and contribute to quality of life; the normalization of unselfconscious and jaw-dropping hypocrisy and blatant dishonesty (several degrees worse than the kind of spin we’ve come to expect from most politicians ); the threat of potentially devastating military interventions rather than an unwavering commitment to peacebuilding and ever more serious diplomacy; lingering and serious questions about Russian connections and political conflicts of interest; and the list goes on.

With things happening almost every day that trouble me, I find it really hard to rest in the first words of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear….” My activist and impatient self wants to do something to make it all stop, to make a difference, to speak out and act on behalf of those who are most vulnerable right now. I have a difficult time taking the long view of history, trusting not only in God as my refuge, but also in the ability of the world’s oldest democracy to survive what feels like an existential threat. As I’ve said before, it’s not an either/or thing (that is, either I become politically active, or I serenely rest in God’s providence to work it all out while I plunge myself into local and family endeavors); it’s definitely both/and. But still the balance is difficult and my soul needs the rest that comes from “being still” and trusting in a God who cares about the world, individual people, and me.

A typical scene from my current life: Sophie the cat and a mug of tea sustaining me while I edit yet another article.

I wish for a continued (relatively) sharp mind so I can keep doing the things I enjoy and that give meaning to my life: editorial and writing projects, knitting, reading and writing, conversations with friends, travel with my husband, time with my children and grandchildren, volunteer work. Along with a sharp mind, I wish for good eyesight. I’m headed toward cataract surgery in the not-too-distant future, proof that the aging process moves inexorably forward. So much of what I enjoy doing requires not only a sharp mind but good eyesight as well.

Last year in my birthday post I mentioned my annual wellness visit and the three words I had to remember briefly to prove that my short-term memory is intact: apple, table, penny. At this year’s wellness visit, I pre-empted the test by repeating those same three words to the nurse before she had a chance to give them to me – proof, I thought, that my mind is still sharp! I don’t feel like my cognitive skills are slipping, but it’s hard not to have a moment of panic when I can’t remember something I think I should be able to remember (like someone’s name or a phone number I used to know really well or where I put something). Most of the time I tell myself that such memory lapses are normal for anyone who has filed away a lot of detail in her brain over 69 years – it’s not always easy to access the correct file of information from that brain! I also remember something my son said when he was six years old and half-listening to someone dispel some myths about aging. When he heard the speaker talk about “forgetfulness” as a stereotypical characteristic of old people and give the example of going upstairs and then not remembering why, Derek turned to me and said, “I do that sometimes.” Even six-year-olds can be forgetful, so I should give myself a break!

I wish for an attitude of gratitude for all the privileges, blessings, and opportunities that have come my way throughout my life. I don’t want to take anything for granted or assume any sense of entitlement, knowing that many people have not had access to the same privileges and opportunities. I want to be grateful and not bitter or envious about things I sometimes wish I had but don’t. I recognize the fragility of much of what I have and know it could easily be taken away. I also want to be grateful at some level even for the hard things that have been part of my life, not because I enjoyed them, didn’t wish them away at the time, or wouldn’t be just as happy if they had never happened, but because they have become part of who I am – part of my story – and have taught me valuable lessons. Many times, gratitude is not my first instinct, but I would like to be able to get there more quickly than I sometimes do.

The ability to “be still,” a sharp mind, and an attitude of gratitude: three more birthday wishes as I head into the final year of my 60s. Are they too much to ask?

Three Birthday Wishes

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One of the earliest photos I have of myself – another treasure from that vintage suitcase. Circa 1948, Matopo Mission, Southern Rhodesia.

As I celebrate my birthday on primary election day in Pennsylvania, in the middle of one of the oddest and most frustrating presidential campaigns ever (in my memory, at least), there are many things I could wish for, but I’ve limited myself to three wishes. One relates directly to presidential politics, one looks beyond this year’s election to the future, and one is more personal as I edge ever closer to my seventh decade.

I wish for a U. S. political system that is fair and based more closely on the concept of one-person, one-vote. An upside of this crazy political season has been the exposure of a system that doesn’t really operate that way. Instead, it relies heavily on arcane and complicated rules and the behind-the-scenes machinations of Republican and Democratic Party officials; during the primaries, it disenfranchises many voters who choose not to register as Republicans or Democrats; it allows states to enact new laws and procedures that in effect make it more difficult rather than easier for many people to vote; it feels like wealthy individuals have undue influence on the outcome; it rewards gerrymandering by both parties. While I understand how difficult it would be, both logistically and politically, to change the system, I believe democracy would be so much better served if we could. Perhaps one positive result of the 2016 presidential election cycle will be some steps in that direction. I wish….

I wish for a world in which my grandchildren and their children and grandchildren can survive and thrive. That kind of world is in many ways summed up in the “fruit of the Spirit,” as enumerated in Galatians 5 – a world where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control abound. Just writing those words makes me feel like my wish is a pipe dream, completely unattainable, and the stuff of unrealistic idealism that doesn’t recognize the realities of evil in the world. But, what if everyone truly tried to embody those characteristics? Or as a start, what if everyone who claims to be Christian did?

In the world I wish for, my grandchildren and their children and grandchildren will:

  • Live with hope and optimism that they can make a positive difference in the world, rather than be ruled by fear and apocalyptic pessimism
  • Be part of systems that are generous and compassionate toward the dispossessed and marginalized
  • Have plenty of clean air and clean water, along with beautiful natural spaces to explore and enjoy
  • Live in safe neighborhoods, not threatened by random gun violence or other threats to their well-being
  • Be able to get an excellent education and quality healthcare without saddling themselves with huge debt
  • Have equal opportunities and not be discriminated against, regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity
  • Learn how to be peacemakers and resolve conflicts in ways that don’t depend on violence and hateful rhetoric
  • Be willing to forgive and show mercy to those who might not deserve it
  • Recognize that their own freedom should not come at the expense of others
  • Treat others the way they wish to be treated

I wish to be able to age well. When I think about what my parents were like at the age I am today (68), I remember them as already seeming old, even though they lived to be really old (91 and 93, respectively). When I think of myself, I don’t feel old; in fact, except for those periodic aches and pains (like the “crick” I’ve had in my shoulder for the last few days), I feel like I’m still in my 40s. But I have one child who is in her 40s, and another who is approaching that milestone, so clearly I’m not. I might not be old yet, but I’m certainly well on my way!

At my annual wellness exam in February, the nurse checked my mental status – something I assume is a standard part of wellness exams for those of Medicare age. She gave me three words to remember while she conducted some other tests, and then instructed me to repeat the three words. This test always panics me a bit: what if I can’t remember the words? But I had no trouble, and in fact still remember the three words: apple, table, penny. If I remember the words all the way to next year’s exam, will that prove that there is no cognitive decline?

If I had my wish, good aging would include the continued pleasure of good and loving relationships with family and friends, interesting hobbies, travel, meaningful activities, and being able to contribute to a better and more peaceful world. It would be free of excessive pain and devastating disease, and it would not include cognitive decline. But I know that what I wish for may not happen. I have some control – for example, I knit, read, play word games, and write, which are all activities that are supposed to keep one’s brain active – but there are many things I can’t control. When the inevitable aging process begins to take its toll in significant ways, I wish for the patience and grace to accept it and not become a difficult person, filled with anger, bitterness, depression, and regrets. I may not want to “go gentle into that good night,” but I also don’t want to resist it so much that I make myself and everyone else miserable! I want to age well, and then to die well.

Three wishes for my birthday. Which ones will come true?

 

The Pelicans Reprised

Once upon a time, sixteen teenagers enrolled at Messiah College, most having grown up in the Brethren in Christ Church but not really knowing each other. Friendships developed and romances blossomed. Graduation and/or marriage dispersed them to many parts of the world. During one year, those sixteen teenagers became eight married couples. (Okay, to be accurate: two of them became a couple the year before, but let’s not quibble too much.) As the eight couples settled into adult life, friendships continued – sometimes across great distances to the other side of the world – and others were formed. For a time, some lived in the same neighborhood in Harrisburg where their children played and went to school together. Over the years, their careers have varied widely: doctor, nurse, therapist, museum curator, postal worker, missionary, business owner, administrator, computer programmer, business analyst, editor and writer, volunteer, pastor, teacher, insurance broker.

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The “Of Pines and Pelicans” house in the Outer Banks. This photo was taken in 2013 during a little trip down memory lane.

The network of relationships that began during college and continued through more than two decades of marriage brought all eight couples together to celebrate their 25th anniversaries in a huge rented house called “Of Pines and Pelicans” in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They had such a great time that they decided to continue spending time together and started calling themselves The Pelicans in honor of the Outer Banks house. Life and geographic distance intervened, and most of the time the original group of eight couples became five with one or more of the other three couples joining the group occasionally. Five couples celebrated the next three milestone anniversaries together: the 30th in southern Ontario; the 35th on a cruise to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia; and the 40th on a cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean. In between these bigger events, the couples get together in their homes, at other special events, and once a year for a weekend in a rented house called Ox Bow View in Juniata County, Pennsylvania.

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Around the table at Ox Bow in 2013. Photo taken by yours truly.

Of course, this isn’t a fairy tale, and these are real people. I’ve written before about our wonderful group of friends with close to 50 years of shared history and almost 20 years of regularly spending time together as couples since that week in the Outer Banks. Since I’m the resident “professional writer,” I’ve often been encouraged to write our history and try to capture in words what we experience when we’re together. Honestly, I don’t think it’s something one person can do, since so much of what happens during our gatherings is an amazing confluence of all the experiences, creativity, wit and wisdom of everyone who is there. But writing by committee is difficult and frustrating (for me anyway), so here’s my small effort to add to the story, focusing on some common themes that we seem to return to every time we’re together.

Our children and grandchildren: Back in 1996 in the Outer Banks, each couple shared their courtship and marriage story. Our children were still in their teens and early 20s and trying to find their places in the world. In the years since, we’ve talked a lot about our children – their successes and failures, our joys and concerns for them. Now they’re all well-established as responsible adults (thank you, God!), with spouses of their own, and they’ve given us some of the world’s most adorable grandchildren to pamper. So our conversations have shifted to “grandparent tales,” and the photos we share are more often of them and not their parents!

Our health: You might expect health to be a topic of conversation among 60-somethings, as we lament the way our bodies are breaking down and do our best to forestall the process. Three of us are cancer survivors, one had open heart surgery, one had back surgery, one had a minor stroke, several are becoming more hard of hearing (and periodically show off their new and improved hearing aids), and we all have an ever-changing variety of the aches and pains of aging. We’re fortunate to have a couple doctors among us who don’t mind being consulted informally about the latest symptom. Our memories are all fairly well intact, but being well aware that increasing forgetfulness is often a characteristic of the aging process, we joke a lot about how we’ll soon be able to repeat stories because it will be like hearing them for the first time. Diminished hearing also makes for laughter, when what someone hears is not what the speaker intended. Without even trying, we have our own version of the whisper game.

Language, words, and old songs: I might be the one who makes her living with all the words I write and edit, but we all enjoy language and words. One person is our master pun-maker, able to come up with a clever and appropriate pun in the moment, and others try really hard to keep up with him. We all appreciate the English language correctly used, and can easily spend an evening around the dining room table listing all our language and grammatical pet peeves. (See here for some of mine…) I always have a worthy opponent for a couple games of Scrabble anagrams, and we’ve played hilarious rounds of the dictionary game. We also like to sing together – especially old hymns and songs that were popular during our teen years. One evening around the dining room table consisted of a version of “Name That Tune,” as one person gave the first word or phrase of an old Sunday school chorus (think 1950s) and everyone else broke into song. We were amazed at the huge repertoire of choruses we had among us, from all those years during our childhoods of attending Sunday school, children’s meetings at conferences and camp meetings, Vacation Bible School, etc.

Recurring jokes: There are certain words and phrases that are guaranteed to evoke laughter – as we remember their context in a joke from 15 years ago, or just 15 minutes ago. These are inside jokes, definitely of the “you-had-to-be-there” variety, which don’t translate well for others not in the group. The words and phrases sound innocuous enough – sweet corn, stick, saran wrap – but they remind us of moments of doubled-over, tears-producing laughter. There was also the time we were going around the table with each couple telling a story about themselves that no one else knew. One couple told a story that had the rest of us wide-eyed and open-mouthed – we couldn’t believe this had happened to them and no one ever knew. Then the punch line: it was all a fabrication, a lie. Yet it sounded so believable the way they told the story, with both husband and wife fully engaged in tag-teaming the details. We will never let them live that down – and now we are not nearly so trusting of the stories we hear.

Intense discussions: We are not a monolithic group, with everyone believing the same thing and coming down on the same side of controversial issues. We range from fairly liberal to fairly conservative on the theological and political spectrum. Some of us are quite sure of what we believe, while others are far more nuanced and tentative, which makes for interesting conversations when one person declares that “this is the way it is” and someone else wishes for more uncertainty and open-mindedness. We have had significant personal disagreements, to the point of serious conflict that made us wonder whether our group could survive. Sometimes someone feels left out of the conversation because it’s about something he or she doesn’t care or know anything about, or because it feels too trivial when there are important and life-changing issues to discuss. Navigating the waters of these intense discussions has been difficult, but we keep trying because we care about each other and value our friendship.

The food: One year at Ox Bow, as we were fantasizing about the book we could write about ourselves, we lit upon the idea of a cookbook. We always eat well when we’re together. In the early days of these weekend getaways, we ate three full meals a day. (Before each weekend, we divvy up the meal responsibilities, with one or two couples being in charge of each meal.) It began to feel like all we ever got done was preparing for a meal, eating it, and then cleaning up afterwards, not to mention never really being hungry when time for the next meal rolled around. Finally, we got smart and scaled down to two meals a day – a mid-morning brunch and an evening meal. But those two meals are always feasts, whether they consist of traditional fare or new recipes that the gourmet cooks among us like to try.

Last fall, on our way home from a return vacation to the Outer Banks, Dale and I searched out the house the Pelicans rented in 1996. From the outside it showed clear signs of wear and tear: hurricanes, tropical storms, sun, sand and wind have beaten down on it. I couldn’t help thinking that the way the house has weathered a lot is something of a metaphor for the Pelican couples as well. We’ve weathered much and we’re showing signs of age, but like the house, we’re still standing strong and ready not only for the next stage of our lives but also for more good times together with treasured friends.

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

At the beginning of this month, when I announced my plans to write for this blog every day for the month of April, I noted that this commitment was at least partly in honor of my 65th birthday. I also mentioned how I was dragging my feet and kicking and screaming my way into the ranks of Medicare-eligible. I am not, to paraphrase the famous Dylan Thomas poem, “going gently into that good night” of old age. Instead, I want to celebrate the life I’ve had so far and the many good years I hope are still ahead.

All month, I’ve been telling stories from my life and sharing perspectives that sort of fit with the “Pieces of Peace” title of my blog. Today, to celebrate 65 years of living, I’ve divided those 65 years into five equal segments of 13 years and telling one story from each period.

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My earliest photo of
myself at about
two months

1948-1961: For most of these early years, I lived in the African countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia as the child of missionaries. The year I was 12 and in boarding school in Choma, about 40 miles from Macha Mission where my parents were stationed, I received a letter from my dad. That was unusual, because my mother always wrote to me, while my dad wrote to my older brother back in North America. Dad told me that there was going to be a baptism and church membership event at Macha during an upcoming weekend, and he wanted to know whether I would like to be baptized and join the church. I said yes, and that weekend I joined about 50 African Christians who were also joining the church.

In the Brethren in Christ tradition, believers’ baptism is done with the individual kneeling in water and being “dunked” three times forward. I was not a swimmer and was scared of having my head underwater, so this was not easy for me. Furthermore, the baptism service took place in the Macha River, and I had to kneel on rough stones while David Climenhaga, then bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church in Africa, baptized me. The whole experience wasn’t as sacred and meaningful as it should have been – at the time, anyway. In retrospect, I am glad I joined the church while I was in Africa; it is another important connection I have with a period of my life that was foundational to who I am today.

1961-1974: These years were times of great upheaval and change, ranging from returning to and settling into a new life in the United States, to romancing and marrying Dale, to giving birth to Dana. In the middle of this period, from 1968-1970, I went way across the country to the University of Idaho for graduate school. If I had the proverbial nickel for every time I have been asked, “Why Idaho?” I might have been able to retire long ago! The short answer is that another person who had majored in English at Messiah College a few years ahead of me had gone to Idaho for her Master’s degree, so my adviser suggested I apply. Of the several schools I applied to, UI offered me the best financial deal, so off I went to a place where I knew no one.

Having survived years of boarding school, I never expected to be homesick, but I was. That first semester was difficult, made bearable only because I very soon bought my airline ticket home for Christmas and therefore had something tangible to hold in my hands to prove I could go home again and because my mother and my college friends wrote frequent and and newsy letters to me. After Christmas break when I returned to school, Idaho was in the middle of one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record. The college-age group at the Nazarene church I attended invited me to join them for a sledding party, and after that, as I finally began to make new friends, I was never homesick again. While I have never been back to Moscow and the university in more than 40 years, I have wonderful memories of those two years.

1974-1987: During this 13-year segment, we moved to Harrisburg and welcomed our second child, Derek, into our home. I also began in earnest my writing and editorial “career.” In 1981, I started editing a small publication then called the Peace and Justice Newsletter (the name changed to Shalom! in 1985 and it is still going strong in 2013). In the Summer 1984 edition, my editorial was entitled “Wow! They Must Be Rich!” and told a little story from our neighborhood in Harrisburg.

One day, two elementary-school-age boys stopped by to ask if we had a basketball they could borrow to shoot baskets in the make-shift plastic milk carton hoop someone had constructed in the alley. Dale took them out to the garage where we kept the ball. In the garage there was also a regulation-style real basketball hoop and backboard Dale had installed for our children. “Wow,” said one boy when he saw the backboard, “They must be rich.” “Na,” retorted the other, “If they were rich, they wouldn’t be living here.” The story illustrated at the time and still does the relative nature of wealth. We never thought of ourselves as rich in those days, and we weren’t, compared to many people. However, compared to many others, including those little boys in our inner-city neighborhood, we were rich. It was a good reminder to be thankful for what we had, even when we were tempted to think it wasn’t much.

1987-2000: I started working again outside the home, eventually landing in a position that morphed into what I am still doing part-time in retirement. Our children went to middle school and high school, then college; we moved to Mechanicsburg and celebrated our 25th anniversary with the Pelicans; Dana married Nes.

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Dana and Nes’ wedding party
October 23, 1999

When we moved out of Harrisburg, Dana was not very happy with us. She thought our new neighborhood was too quiet, too suburban, and not very diverse (which it wasn’t!). Despite some of the challenges she had faced in Harrisburg as a white girl among mostly African Americans, she loved the diversity and cared deeply about racial reconciliation. So we weren’t surprised when she ended up at Messiah College’s Philadelphia campus, or that she eventually chose to make her permanent home in Philly – especially once she married Nes, who was born and raised in Philly. At their wedding, when Dale and I spoke as her parents, I said to her, “Today, as I look out on this congregation of your friends and family and the new family you’re beginning with Nes, I am struck by the colorful and diverse circle of people you have brought together to celebrate this day with you.” The picture of their wedding party is ample evidence of that “diverse circle” I talked about!

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The whole family the day after
Derek and Katie’s wedding on June 2, 2012

2000-2013: One way to characterize the most recent 13-year segment of my life is as a roller-coaster ride between chaos and equilibrium. Some of the most difficult experiences of my life were during this period: navigating young adulthood with our children, the death of both my parents, cancer, turmoil at work, and dealing with several significant situations of conflict that sapped my energy and challenged every peacemaking skill I ever thought I had. On the other hand, during this period Dale and I cruised with our Pelican friends in the Eastern Mediterranean to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary; traveled together to other beautiful places like Hawaii, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Utah; became grandparents to three beautiful grandchildren; rejoiced with Derek and Katie on their wedding day almost a year ago; and I was able to mostly retire from a job where I was (and still am, I think) highly valued. I know this isn’t one story from this period, but as I thought about the last few years, what stands out is what a crazy ride I’ve been on through emotional highs and lows. Right now I feel like I’m in a relative state of equilibrium, which is good. I am grateful for my 65 years and hope for many more. Happy birthday to me!

The Pelicans

One of the fond memories we have from when we lived in Harrisburg was our custom of regularly sharing dinners with the Deyhle family. During those times together while our kids were off playing elsewhere in the house, we four adults would sit around the dining room table and talk – and look forward to a time in what felt like the way distant future when we would go somewhere together to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries (we were both married in 1971). Our custom of shared dinners ended at some point and Dale and I thought that the idea of a 25th anniversary trip together probably ended too; it was just something to talk and dream about at the dining room table.

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In front of our rented house in June 1996
Front row: Wendell and Faithe Zercher; Esther and John Spurrier
Second row: Harriet and Dale Bicksler, Karen and Dan Deyhle
Third row: Sharon Engle, Darlene Keller
Fourth row: Millard Engle, Mark Keller, Wanda Heise
Back row: Diane and Dallas Wolgemuth, Glen Heise

Then as our 25th anniversary approached, the idea of a joint celebration gathered momentum because Dan Deyhle started recruiting other couples who had also been married in 1971 to join us. Ultimately, after multiple planning meetings to choose a destination and work out all the logistical details, in June 1996 eight couples converged on a large house called “Of Pines and Pelicans” on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We had a wonderful week eating meals together, telling our stories about how we met and married, sharing our joys and struggles, sightseeing and enjoying each other’s company, and laughing and making memories. We had such a good time we decided we wanted to keep getting together – and “The Pelicans” anniversary group was born.

The eight couples have more in common than being married in 1971 (actually, one couple was married in 1970 but was unable to celebrate their 25th in 1995, so we invited them to join us and fill the eighth bedroom in our rented house). We are all Messiah College graduates, and many of us knew each other when we were in college. All of us have also spent time overseas in some kind of mission or service-related assignment. (Full disclosure: my overseas “assignment” was only as a missionary kid!) Among us, we have 16 children, therefore exactly reproducing ourselves, and we now have daughters- and sons-in-law and 18 grandchildren.

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In Venice for our 40th

Since 1996 when we celebrated 25 years of marriage (or 200 years as our T-shirts said: 8 couples x 25 years each = 200 years), five of the eight couples have gone on more trips together to celebrate milestone anniversaries. For our 30th, we went to Ontario, Canada; for our 35th, we cruised to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; and for our 40th, we cruised the Eastern Mediterranean. We’re already beginning to think ahead to our 45th in 2016. It’s a major challenge in group decision-making to choose what to do and where to go, so we need to start our planning early! We also spend a weekend together every August at a rented house in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and at the turn of the millenium, we established a tradition of having a New Year’s Eve party as well. In between, we usually have other gatherings at one of our homes.

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At Ox Bow in Mifflin County

Our conversations when we’re together are always entertaining – ranging from lighthearted fun to serious conversations about serious issues. We laugh a lot – at recurring jokes, memories of past get-togethers, our personal foibles, our aging bodies, etc. I’ve often thought that sometime I would like to diagram our conversations over the course of a weekend together – keeping track of all the topics, how they connect to one another, and how the topics circle back around to pick up a theme from 10 minutes ago or perhaps a day ago. Almost every time we get together, at least one meme is created. Sometimes those memes are picked up the next time we get together, and some have lasted almost since the beginning.

We enjoy wonderful home-cooked meals to which we all contribute, and usually have way more food than we need. We talk about tough stuff, including controversial issues on which we don’t all agree. We are keenly aware that we are aging, and while we joke about our increasing inability to hear each other’s conversations and our fading memories (it’s getting so it’s not a problem to repeat stories because we’ve already forgotten the details from when they were first told!), the joking is tinged with the recognition that our “disabilities” will inevitably increase. We’ve also talked about how we will handle it when one of us is a widow or widower among the other couples, which we know will happen one of these days. We’ve attended the weddings of each other’s children, most recently our son’s wedding, and we’ve celebrated the birth of each other’s grandchildren, most recently the birth of a grandchild the grandparents weren’t sure they would ever have. We’ve “borne each other’s burdens” of illness (three bouts of cancer, back surgery and open heart surgery), employment challenges, and concerns for our children and grandchildren.

Back in 1996, when we wore our “Married 200 Years” T-shirts to a restaurant one evening and found ourselves explaining to other guests at the restaurant who we were, someone commented that they didn’t think they knew eight couples who had been married that long. Now we’re past the 40-year mark as couples and we know how blessed we are. I can’t speak for all the Pelicans, but for me this group of friends is a wonderful treasure I hope to enjoy for many more years as we grow old together.

A New Thirty-Day Discipline

I created “Pieces of Peace” more than four years ago, and I haven’t posted anything since May 2009. Hardly anyone even knows this blog exists. I initially started it because I wanted a venue for sharing more of my own writing, as opposed to writing I do for various assignments. While I’ve written a lot since May 2009, I haven’t shared any of it here. That’s going to change this month. With some anxiety, I am intentionally embarking on a discipline of writing for this blog every day in April.

Why now, you ask? Well, as of today, April 1, 2013, I am officially eligible for Medicare. Even though my birthday isn’t until later this month, the little card from the U.S. government I now carry around with me says my Medicare coverage is effective today. I turn 65 this month. How is that happening? Other milestone birthdays have come and gone; I turned 30, 40, 50 and 60 without much angst. For some reason, age 65 sounds so much older than I think I am and than I want to be. It feels like turning 65 marks my official entry into “senior citizen” land, and I’m not at all sure I want to go there!

So to mark this milestone, each day during the month of April, I intend to share reflections, musings, narratives, and opinions on random topics of interest to me over 65 years of living. I say “I intend” because, frankly, I’m a little worried that other duties and interests will clamor for attention and I won’t be able to fulfill this challenge to myself. Plus, I don’t usually write off the top of my head and go public. I like to let my words simmer awhile and give myself time to edit, revise, edit and revise some more before I let them see the light of day. Writing and publishing every day will not let me do that. To make things a little easier and give myself a greater chance of achieving my goal, I might cheat a little and reprint or adapt things I’ve written in the past, some of which have been published elsewhere and some not.

quietbookiconlarge Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cant Stop TalkingRecently, I’ve been reading the new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. In the introduction, Cain lists a number of characteristics of introverts, making it easy for me to confirm what I already know: I am an introvert! Of particular relevance for this blog, she notes that introverts “listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation” (p. 11). I can relate. Make me speak extemporaneously or engage in large group conversation and I get all tongue-tied; give me a pen and paper (or a computer and keyboard) and I can usually express myself fairly well and even offer strong opinions on controversial issues. I also personally understand what Cain means when she writes, “[Introverts] welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise [her] hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce [her]self to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world” (p. 63).

I actually am “thinking twice” and I confess I’m a little nervous about this new blog challenge. But it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time (witness this four-year-old blog that no one has seen yet), so I’m going to try. It will be interesting to see how it turns out!