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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Requesting Youth Do-Over, Please!

Most of us Boomers talk frequently about our misspent youths. Misspent mostly on underachievement, it seems. Today’s young people have accomplished so much more when they hit 20 that it boggles my aging mind. Last year, I had the opportunity, as a Saint Louis University alumnus, to interview students applying for the Presidential Scholarship, a full-ride tuition scholarship for four years, not chump change by a long shot. As I reviewed their resumes and talked to them, they sounded more like college graduates than high school, or maybe people who has been OUT of college for a while. Two of them had already established their own non-profit organizations working on international projects.

What was I doing in high school? Besides trying to impress my parents with my GPA, I was going to dances, doing volunteer work at a local hospital, and participating in school clubs. Homework took up a lot of my time.

For today’s high-schoolers, homework continues, but somehow they manage to take advance-placement college classes, compete in high level sport teams, establish non-profit organizations and still have a social life. How is this possible?

Most of my friends agree that we wouldn’t want to re-live our high school years to become overcommitted, but there are some things I would have liked to have done. Recently I came back from a trip to Cuba, sanctioned by the US State Department as a cultural exchange. One of the things we did was to watch a rehearsal of the Opera de la Calle, street opera, a concept developed by a Cuban opera performer who has performed all over the world. His goal was to make opera more accessible and affordable for the average Cuban. What he developed was a vibrant, colorful and life-affirming performance that just lifted you out of your seat. More like West Side Story than Othello, it was magnetic. As I watched it, all I could think was: “I want to do that. I want to BE that!”
Well, let’s be real. I’m not 19 years old and I’m not a great dancer. As my husband pointed out: “Did you see how LONG they kept that up? We don’t have that kind of stamina!” But I have the soul of that person and I wish those types of opportunities had been available when I was in High School. That they weren’t, and my parents would never have understood, doesn’t mean I can’t find some semblance of that dream at age 65.

A wise person recently said (and of course, I can’t remember who that was) that we should write down all the things we would do IF there were no barriers (money, age, health, etc.), and then start doing them. So I just need to find an old-fogey band, some other people near my age who want to sing and dance, and start putting together our group. Even if we have to perform for nursing homes, hey! A gig is a gig!
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gratitude Increasing with Age

I think one of the truly great things about advancing age is the time and experience we accumulate to amp up our gratitude quotient. Some of the things I’m grateful for:

1.      My “Old Love” of 45 years, Tom, who have been at my side through thick and thin
2.      My parents: At 90 and 88, they are one of the greatest blessings to still have in my life at my ripe old age of 65.
3.      My son and daughter-in-law: great people, great parents
4.      My two (don’t get me started) smart, adorable granddaughters
5.      My sisters: three truly remarkable women who inspire me daily to be more than I am
6.      My health: I can do what I want to accomplish without health issues holding me back.

And if that weren’t enough, my financial comfort. That was never a more apparent gratitude than after a recent trip to Cuba. With the US embargo of Cuba in its 56th year and with Cuba being a Communist country, the people there have dealt with considerable adversity. After their main supporter and importer, the USSR, collapsed in 1991, the country spiraled into an economic downspin. The average Cuban had lost 20 pounds through malnutrition by 1994. They went to rationing for key staples.  

There are no supermarkets in Cuba. Farmers can’t own the beef from their own cows. Only certain ages are entitled to milk. All products in Cuba, if available, are very expensive because, other than produce, have to be shipped in from other countries, usually around the horn of South America. Because of the embargo, ships bound for Cuba can’t even use the Panama Canal. And yet, the Cuban people are alive, vibrant, and produce music and art to die for.

When we returned from the trip, I had to go to the grocery to buy perishables. I felt a profound sense of guilt at the amount of products available to us at reasonable costs. The choices can be overwhelming. I stood in the canned tomato section for 15 minutes totally at sea as to what type of diced tomatoes I needed. Such a dilemma to have!

We could all spend five minutes thinking about our blessings and the things for which we are grateful. It makes all the creepy parts of getting older pale in comparison.