When we started this blog, it was our goal to depict a first-person record of our thoughts for our friends, children and grandchildren. Maybe this record could start a conversation or provide an insight that would benefit someone. Sometimes this writing is tough for me, because I’m just an ‘everyman’, whose experiences are mostly alike to just about all the folks who read our posts. So, here’s a recent dilemma – perhaps you’ve felt the same.
I believe that most people make decisions with their heart and then rationalize why they are logical decisions. However, there are times when logic and doubt put the brakes on that decision, rendering a full-hearted decision into a half-hearted enterprise. I tend to do that frequently. A case in point:
An acquaintance asked me for a favor, a man in his later nineties. Would I act as the executor for his will as he had no family or close friend to help him? Sure, I said – of course. “Whoa”, my brain’s executive function replied – “What are you getting us into?” Well, said I, it’s the right thing to do, after all, he’s alone and I’ll just provide the administrative work to satisfy his last wishes, which were to donate his estate to a charity that helps burn victims – and to ensure that the ashes of his deceased dog get buried with him.
It started off with some bumps. I realized soon into the process, that my friend (I will call him friend, because we now have a certain relationship) has a communication style which tends to alienate quite a lot of folks. If asked a question he does not wish to answer, he simply refuses to acknowledge the query, stares straight ahead, and pretends he doesn’t speak the language (yet English is his only language). If the question is repeated, he may deflect by becoming antagonistic. This pattern makes it very difficult to deal with lawyers, who want to define the set of assets and stipulations in his will and funeral directors, who attempt to identify the conditions of being laid to rest. Later, I found out that this style also doesn’t help medical professionals who are trying to determine what hurts and under what circumstances. Clearly, his needs were less for an executor, but more for a care-giver and public relations specialist.
It became starkly apparent when my friend slipped in his steep driveway and had to go to the emergency room. From there, he was shunted to a rehabilitation center for two months. During this time, we worked through his bills and arranged a safe return to his house, with added handicapped assistance and occupational therapy. Bill-paying took some time, because my friend only pays with a credit card and only by telephone, and only when his hearing aids worked. His philosophy is that if creditors didn’t make it easy to pay (e.g., no checks, no computer, no long telephone menu, no foreign accents), well, then they didn’t need his money. Shopping also became an issue, because he has specific – and limited — tastes which are distributed among several grocery stores.
Around this time, I became half-hearted. Although I wanted to help, nothing seemed to satisfy my friend. Every problem had a particular – and not quite obvious — acceptable solution. Also, running around to different stores for special cereal, orange juice brands, bread, and non-dairy creamers is just not my thing. In addition, desired brands were not always available due to stocking and supply chain issues. Bananas with absolutely no spots, white bread with expiration dates of two weeks or more, one brand of cheese, two types of cereal in a particular volume, razor-thin sliced angus, and one type of non-dairy creamer – a gallon at a clip, were judged to standards beyond my enthusiasm level. Products and people all seemed to be sources of irritation to my friend, even those people who were helping him in some fashion. I found myself parlaying excuses for delaying my visits. I kept saying to myself, I’m supposed to be learning something from this situation, but I could not figure it out.
I was mad at myself for not really engaging; resentment was weighing me down. Being half-hearted is bad for your health. The Bible has a relevant verse about this:
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Boy, that fit. Yoda also has a verse:
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
Well, that pinned me – either do or don’t. I realize that I needed to see this as a situation where I should be happy that I’m able to do something to help my friend… and lucky that I have a wife who is game to assist. Finally, I became content with understanding that I may never figure out what I’m supposed to learn from this experience. And as soon as that happened, I learned some things!
- People, particularly seniors, want to be recognized: they are afraid of becoming irrelevant; want to be seen and understood. But that’s not enough
- People want you to care. You cannot do that in a half-hearted manner. Showing up isn’t enough: you have to listen to their stories and be invested. Regularity and attention to detail will also help
- Understand that even if help is required, it is rarely welcomed. Folks may not show their best side, particularly if that have reason to come from a position of general mistrust. In my case, being judged for shopping skills was not the point. It was to ensure that I listened to my friend’s needs. Once that was satisfied, he compromised on his brand requirements
- Those abrasive and judgmental behaviors could easily be my personality style in similar circumstances. Look at yourself and learn to age with grace.
Age with Grace
I was having trouble trying to connect with Wally’s half-heartedness. I have never been in a situation like that where I have been tested. Wally is his own worst critic and I admire how he stepped up and helped this guy out.
I aspire to be like him, Wally not the cranky old guy. Perhaps I have never been in that position because I have been too afraid to make that leap of faith and people recognized that in me and never approached me. Wally has shared his experiences with this gentleman, and I often thought were it me I would be stomping my feet, throwing things, and cursing at the moodiness and abruptness that Wally’s generosity was dealt with by this guy. I just couldn’t ‘relate until the last three words of Wally’s text….. Age With Grace.
I immediately was enveloped in the snarky state that I am known for…. But Wally, your wife is named Linda! Sometimes I do that because the topic of discussion is too painful to address intellectually. I have accomplished much in my life that has made me proud but doing it with grace is not one of my strong suits. To age with grace is quite a concept., and quite a task to accomplish. Those of us who are fortunate enough to age, do it in various ways. Our culture doesn’t revere aging the way other cultures do, and as a result we are often taken advantage of, teased, or discounted. Aging gracefully may be more an aspect of how those around us treat us rather than anything we do “gracefully.” I often joke that I have earned my curmudgeon license and enjoy using it. Old people are known for their crankiness, and ornery-ness. Our society doesn’t always treat seniors with patience and respect, and as a result many seniors respond to society without that value and respect, they/we expect. Just look at all the hackers and computer thieves who prey on seniors to get our money over the phone or through the computer because we aren’t smart enough to know better. Throw in some fear and add confusion and we are easy prey to these crooks.
I fear growing older more like Wally’s friend than Jimmy Carter and that troubles me. Being alone late in life is very difficult. Sure, I have caring kids who will always take care of me but I don’t want them to have to do that. And having kids is different than having a partner. You can’t talk to your kids the same as you can with a spouse or close friend. At least to me it seems inappropriate to talk about certain things with my kids that I could easily share with someone who has known me intimately for a long time. I guess I am quickly approaching the category of cranky old geezer and leaving behind the helpful younger caretaker who graciously gives his time to help out someone in need.
I turned 76 a few weeks ago and suddenly felt old. Nothing changed from how I felt the day before, but the number was scary. Sure, 76 trombones led the big parade but I don’t have a parade in me anymore. I have friends around my age who are dealing with problems with their hands and feet, pain and numbness like I do. I am waiting for the day to come when my kids decide dad shouldn’t be driving anymore- one of the last strongholds for seniors to feel independent Thank goodness for back up cameras because I have trouble turning my head around to see what I am backing into. The camera allows me the security of signaling if I am in danger of crashing into anything. But there are so many little reminders like that that seniors experience in a day, and the indignity that accompanies them. You really have to be brave to get older, the body slowly deteriorates and so does the mind. In the course of a conversation, we lose words. That bugs me most of all, when you have to use the definition of a word because you can’t retrieve the word itself. I went to the, ah, you know, the heart doctor….. right the cardiologist. So, I understand what Wally’s friend is going through. Sometimes I wonder if he gives Wal a list of things just to see how far Wal will go to get everything. But you can tell even with this gentleman his recent life has been very lonely and having a human to talk to every now and then is essential. I know the guy has a good heart because he wants his best friend’s ashes to be buried with him. I know how deep that connection is. I wouldn’t have made it through Covid without mine. I will strive to age with grace…….or Rick, or Mary….or Fred, but perhaps that aspect of life will escape me.
With a Full Heart…
In this thought-provoking piece, Wal asks us to think about how fully we bring ourselves to the task of helping others, how we respond to those things that get in the way of making it a fulfilling experience, and what we can learn from the entire experience. These questions also apply to relationships and work.
There have been numerous times when I did the right thing for the right reasons but not with a positive attitude. I was unhappy about my commitment and wished I was somewhere else, but I had given my word and felt I needed to honor it. And while I’m sure it was apparent to everyone around me, I still felt that they should accept my unsmiling face with appreciation since, after all, I was doing what was expected. This was not how I wanted it to be, but, at the time, didn’t feel there were any viable alternatives.
I remember one time when I was to accompany my former partner and her daughter to the wedding of her friend. I hardly knew the friend or the groom and it was a weekend long affair. To add insult to injury, it was one of those spectacular fall weekends when the weather was perfect for hiking, biking, or anything outdoors and I was really unhappy. Then, I realized that I had a choice! I decided that it would be better off for everyone if I stayed home and excused myself from the wedding event. My partner and her daughter could enjoy the event and they wouldn’t have to worry about me sitting indoors with people I didn’t know and wishing I were somewhere else. I assumed that this was a legitimate request as my partner had excused herself from an outing or two that she wouldn’t have liked and that had been acceptable to me. I was wrong. Even though I was clear and direct, they both were adamant that I should come, that I would have a great time, and they would be extremely unhappy if I didn’t. So I went…begrudgingly, angrily, and more moody than I’ve ever been. I was miserable and so were they. We arrived, they got out while I parked the car, and when I entered the venue, I discovered it was actually a surprise party for me for my fiftieth birthday!
Eckhart Tolle offers three healthy ways to address such issues that move us closer to acting with a full heart and with less suffering. He suggests that when we are faced with a situation in which we are a participant who is struggling with the conditions or circumstances of what we are doing, we can actively seek to change it, completely accept it, or leave.
In the case I described above, I did first seek to change the situation by offering to stay behind and supporting their interest in going. However, instead of accepting the situation after I agreed to go, I feel back into a less than half-hearted position. I made myself miserable and those around me who were, in fact, trying to surprise me with something I would truly enjoy. I have never forgotten that lesson. All I had to do was take a deep breath, let go of where I wanted to be, and enjoy the ride. Instead, I not only lost those hours of living well but numerous minutes and hours regretting it.
“If you’re willing to give me
Give me your all
I like things whole and imperfect
So don’t give me perfect halves
For I don’t like to go for things
and I don’t like to be gone for
― Sherihan Gamal