Archive for Aging

Joining The Mexican Protest March

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All over Mexico at the same hour on the same Sunday, Americans and Canadians joined with Mexicans to protest Trump’s treatment of his southern neighbour. Here in San Miguel de Allende you can feel the people’s stress. Everyone has a family member or at least knows of a fellow Mexican who lives in the USA and fears deportation. Likely they also know of someone who has actually been shackled and escorted to the border.

On the Sunday of the protest, I joined Mexicans, tourists and expats in the march to protest the wall. Winding our way through the narrow streets we chanted, “Puentes no Muros.” (Bridges not walls) Mostly we outsiders were gringoes and Canadians. (Canadians are not “gringoes.” The word comes from the green uniforms American soldiers wore in the war to seize Mexican territory. “Green Go Home” was the cry.)

Proceeding through the narrow winding streets, the flag of Mexico held high, the march headed for the central square of the town. All along the way, Mexicans came out of their homes and shops to express their joy at seeing support for their country. The protest probably won’t do much to influence Trump’s inhumanity, but it certainly gave local people a show of moral support.

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I have a Mexican friend down here. His parents were Mexican and he was raised in the USA, in a Texas border town. He has personal knowledge of the problems faced by Mexicans. He tells me of the huge disparity in incomes. He estimates that 60 to 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty while twenty percent are affluent by any standards and ten percent are incredibly rich.

Here on the streets of San Miguel de Allende poverty is less evident than in Mexico City. Still, even here where Snow Birds spend the winter and generously support children’s education and health, there are women sitting cross-legged on the street, a small child on their laps, their hands outstretched begging for pesos from the passing crowd.

A trip outside the town reveals poverty that is shocking to us North Americans. People live in unimaginable poverty. Whole families live under a corrugated roof where they all bed down for the night on the floor. One bare bulb hangs down providing light. Food is basic: beans, corn and rice. Historically, it’s just lucky that beans and corn, the traditional available foods, happen to combine to form a complete protein. Water is scarce and not safe to drink. Affluent people drink only bottled water. Plastic bottles are ubiquitous. The poor drink water that would never pass the test in the United States or Canada.

“Mexico needs a revolution,” remarks my Mexican friend. “It’s the only way things will get better here.” He explains that the bosses and the rich keep a tight rein on the population to prevent chaos. It’s like a country seething with terrible deprivation while the countries to the north are perceived as rich and comfortable.

I went to the internet and found the following:

“Mexico is the country of inequality. Nowhere does there exist such a fearful difference in the distribution of fortune, civilization, cultivation of the soil, and population. …The capital and several other cities have scientific establishments, which will bear a comparison with those of Europe. The architecture of the public and private edifices, the elegance of the furniture, the equipages, the luxury and dress of the women, the tone of society, all announce a refinement to which the nakedness, ignorance, and vulgarity of the lower people form the most striking contrast.”

As the writer Augusto Monterroso wrote in 2002 (p.60): “the unique, truly hyper-real characteristic of Mexico is its social inequality; the misery that marks the everyday life of the immense majority of Mexicans.”

In my next post I’ll write about my trip to a rural school to cut the ribbon on a new library funded by San Miguel’s expats.

A Year After Leaving My Marriage

pexels-photo-286207I’m sitting on a balcony in the warm sun. Hummingbirds and bumblebees whir and buzz in the azalea bushes surrounding me. I’ll call this my first day in San Miguel de Allende since most of yesterday was lost when icing conditions kept the plane from leaving Toronto’s Pearson Airport. I arrived here close to five in the morning on Saturday.

Today is Sunday. As is my custom, I set out for the 10.30 Unitarian Universalist service. I remembered the white stucco building from last year, but when I got there, there were no welcome signs and no people. Turns out it was 9.15 local time, not 10.15. Nobody told me there was an hour’s difference in the time between Toronto and Mexico and in my worn out condition, I didn’t pick up the clues.

Coming to the Unitarian Universalist service when I travel is like coming home. The greeter smiles at me, just as our greeters do back in Canada. This particular greeter, an attractive woman with a warm smile, suggests I make a name badge, including where I live. Once my chest is emblazoned with the bright pink sign, members of the congregation welcome me and ask about my stay in San Miguel. I look over the church bulletin and realize my coming week could be filled with interesting talks, women’s breakfast meetings, dinners and events. For a single woman travelling alone, this is very reassuring.

I take my seat near the front where I can look out on the ornate carved spires of la parrochia, the Roman Catholic church. Its architecture warrants the title of “cathedral,” but since San Miguel de Allende has no bishop, it cannot claim this title. In front of me, the pianist and a violinist take their places. Music is important to Unitarians. The subject of the morning is silence and its importance in our lives. I sink into the peaceful surroundings. My whole body soaks up the music. I’m at peace. It’s all so different from last year when, newly separated, I was tense and unsure of who I was without my husband of 54 years beside me.

This morning I sat in the Sunday morning service, free to feel and experience. A sense of release and relaxation came over me. This was the sort of freedom I’d longed for when, a little over a year ago, I moved out of the matrimonial home to live on my own. I knew I needed to be in charge of my own life, free from another’s opinions and criticisms.

I’m not the only one to benefit from my decision to live alone. My husband is also free to live life as he wishes. He’s healthier and happier than he’s been for decades. He takes excellent care of himself and looks years younger. He likes puttering around the house and tending to the garden. I don’t. For me, being a tenant is freedom from irksome jobs like home repairs. And on it goes. Different interests, different ways we want to use our remaining years.

Aging and Being in Control of Your Life: that’s what’s important to me at this stage of my life. I’m all set to get the most out of my wonderful month in Mexico. I’m truly grateful for my good fortune in being able to experience Mexico again.

Recently I became aware that late-life separations are part of a growing trend. That was news to me. I’d thought I was the only late-seventies person ever to leave a long-term relationship. I’ll talk about this new trend in my next blog post.

Meanwhile, let your opinions be known in the “comments” section below. What do you know about this growing trend? Do you have personal experience with a long-term relationship? Let us know about it.

On Being Allergic to Cold Weather

cold-snow-forest-treesPlease don’t laugh when I tell you I’m allergic to cold weather. It’s no joke. The allergy to cold actually exists. Cold Urticaria symptoms are similar to allergic reactions to seafood or peanuts. My face, being the part of my body exposed to freezing weather, turns mottled red and puffy. I don’t have a wrinkle to my name. That’s the result of the body’s histamine rushing in to protect the body reacting to the allergy. It’s not just my face. All the tissues in my body swell. It’s like having your abdomen and your chest squeezed from within. When it gets bad enough, I feel really sick and head for bed.

Cold Urticaria is not new to me. I’ve had it since I was in my thirties. In those earlier years when I went skiing or planned to be out in the cold for long, I took anti-histamine to counter the rush of histamine. As well, I always carry a neck warmer or face mask to cover my face.

I’d pretty well forgotten about the allergy when it hit me this winter. Last year, winter was mild. During the only really cold period back home, I was in Mexico. This January, I somehow forgot my allergy. Anyway, for whatever reason, I got careless.

It was a bright and sunny day in the dog park, the sort of day you see on Christmas cards. The snow was pristine and the sky was bright blue. I was really enjoying myself watching Sammy The Poodle and his pack of canine friends running and playing together. The following weeks were miserable. I had to get away.

pexels-photoSo here’s my good news. As I write this I’m sitting in Pearson Airport waiting for my plane to Mexico City. From there, I’ll take the three-hour drive to San Miguel Allende, the beautiful little town in the interior. That’s where I went last year shortly after leaving my marriage of 54 years. It was “a first” in many ways. I was travelling alone. (Some friends were expecting me at the other end.) I’d never taken a winter holiday without my husband. It was a first time for shaping my days exactly as I wished: no compromising and no disappointment over not doing what I wanted to do.

This year I’ll be interested to experience myself twelve months further into my single existence. Will I feel less alone? Will I be braver when it comes to seeking out new people? Will I have the courage to go alone to events where normally only couples go?

In my next post, I’ll tell you what it’s like a year later.

Do you have experience travelling alone? Please leave your comments below for other readers.

Only The Young Dye Good

“Only the young dye good.” That’s what my mother always said. In spite of her advice I continued to dye my hair until I was close to 80. At last, in recent months, I’ve had to admit to myself that dark hair doesn’t look right with my older face. It’s time to go natural. I’ve come close to this decision before. Always though, I changed my mind and applied the colour once more.

Why was it so hard to go grey? Susan Moon’s book This is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging With Humor and Dignity throws light on my dilemma. Susan says she chose a time when there were no Buddhist workshops scheduled to dye her gray hair red.

Last year I dyed my gray hair bright red. (There weren’t any Buddhist conferences coming up at the time.) My hair was never red all by itself, and I wasn’t trying to fool anybody. When the hairdresser asked me what effect I was going for, I said I wanted to do something wild. I said I didn’t care if the color didn’t look natural. But I did want to look …well…not to put too fine a point on it …younger. I wanted hair color that would make people interested in what I had to say.

The hairdresser was expensive but skillful. For about two weeks, the red was very bright, and I was startled to discover that it made a difference. Strangers looked at me directly. From a distance I did look younger, more powerful, maybe even more passionate – A redhead! I became visible to clerks in crowded stores. (Page 106)

There! That’s it! If you’re a woman in our society, once your hair goes grey, you become invisible. An attractive woman lawyer friend told me men on the street stopped looking at her once she went grey. Nobody expects anything very intelligent to come out of your mouth. Clerks in stores don’t see you. You lose your clout. Sad but true: older women are invisible in our society.

Alas, it was finally time for me to let my hair go grey or white, or whatever colour it was in its natural state. Step one of going grey started with three hours in the hairdressing studio, my first step in this coming-of-age ritual.

Terina, the hair dresser, welcomed me to her studio. We started by talking about preferred styles. I was in a particularly adventuresome mood that day. “I’m looking for real change, so I’m open to whatever you suggest,” I said. Sitting on a stool beside me, she ran a comb through my hair, considering the task ahead.

“You’ve got quite a bit of curl in your hair,” she said. “Maybe soft and curly?”

“Soft sounds right.” Then I added, “Soft and pretty seems just right. Can you do that? ”We agreed on soft and pretty and Terina disappeared into her walled-off sink area. Five minutes later she emerged with a white plastic bowl and a wooden handled brush that looked like my basting brush.

The concoction she spread over my brown hair smelled like the kitchen composter’s rotting fruits and vegetables. Terina proceeded to slather it on my head. She then wrapped a sheet of saran wrap around the whole mess and left me sitting there for an hour. When she finally rinsed off the concoction, imagine my horror when I realized my hair was carrot red. Terina assured me this was just one step along the way to looking soft and pretty.

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Next she washed off the compost mess and spread a rich foamy whip cream to remove any remaining colour and soften my hair.  Another hour and then a third coating left my hair soft blond. You can see it all in the pictures.

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And so, as I write this, I’m shocking my friends with a head of very short blond hair. Who knows what will follow? The idea is to let the roots grow in unnoticed. I’ll let you know what happens.

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I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts and experiences? Do you colour your hair, or are you also taking the natural route?

 

Susan Moon: This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humour and Dignity, Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, Massachusetts, 2010

Shredding The Past

picture of filesI have a brand new shredder, one of those machines designed to eat up confidential papers so their contents are never leaked. Why, you might ask, would a retired older woman need such a machine? The answer lies in the ruling that says Canadian health care practitioners must preserve their clinical records for ten years after the last meeting with the patient or client. I practiced for thirty years. This is not the first time I’ve shredded.

My new shredder with its black plastic body stands in the corner of my cluttered study. To operate, I hold a pile of paper in its slit of a mouth, then watch it chew up the paper and spit out unreadable bits.

When I sit down to shred, one part of me feels relieved to render these files into unreadable curls. I no longer need to safeguard the file’s privacy. My duty to preserve the file in case the client or the law requires it in future is ended. It’s time to let go all responsibility for this relationship and the resulting written record.

That’s one part of my reaction to shredding. There is, however, another part of me. Each of these pages represents the time I spent following a session, sitting alone in my office, thinking and feeling about our work together as I searched inwardly for the next step in our work together, then sought to write it down.

Ten years later, I end up wondering where Geraldine is now: and whether Doug really did sustain his newfound self-esteem. Warm memories, troubled memories: some I feel really good about and some leave me feeling I should have done better. Hundreds of scenes come rushing back: a revivication of my past as a therapist.

Generally, it’s agreed that nobody who’s an avid reader can be efficient about cleaning out and organizing a library. Such literary types keep finding a book they loved or always meant to read. It takes them forever to dust and replace the books.

It’s something like that with my old client notes. I suppose someone else might just look at the date of our session, conclude that it was ten years or more ago and shred the whole thing. As for me? I’m like that book lover. I hold the file, stare at its cardboard cover, get lost in the memory of the client whose story it contains and end up gazing off into the misty distance, remembering our time together. Shredding becomes an act of honouring the time we spent together a decade or more ago. It’s the paper, not the memory of the client, that gets shredded.

All this shredding then get dumped into a huge see-through plastic bag. This year I managed to fill a few of these recycling containers: tangible evidence of my 30 years of work.