Conscious Aging: “Anam Cara”

“Anam cara” is a new Irish phrase to me; it means, roughly, “soul friend”. The phrase is one I haven’t heard before, but I know the spirit of “soul friend” very well.

My late husband Jerry and I knew R. back in Rochester, at a much earlier and more turbulent time in her life. There’s quite an age difference; I’m 35 years older than she, Jerry would have been 38 years older. Jerry and I were kind to R., not in any earth-shaking sort of way but in the way that most of us are to a younger person going through a rocky time. I’d say we held out a steadying hand, offered a listening ear, gave quiet words of encouragement and support.

R. is a delightful young women, worth any amount of effort anyone might want to extend.

She was here in Seattle for work, and looked me up after all this time. Life goes forward, barely pauses, sometimes seems to gallop ahead. The choice to stop, turn, say “thank you” is deliberate, rare, all the more touching and precious because it often doesn’t happen.

R. and I spent a wonderful evening over wine and dinner. She has blossomed since that hard period in her life. Indeed, listening, I thought of the film I recently saw, “A Star is Born”. R. always was a star, albeit a bit obscured by the dust and debris of her early life. But now she has blossomed. She has a wonderful job, and three excellent offers at hand should she want to make a change. She owns a home. She has people who love her, and whom she loves in return. She is bold, and adventuresome, and competent, and daring. She wants to make a difference in the world.

She paused to stop, look back, and say “thank you” for whatever part Jerry and I played in her getting from then to now. The phrase she used was “anam cara”, soul friend.

I am touched, and blessed, and grateful.

Losing Anthony Bourdain

I think it’s humbling to realize that we never really know what is going on inside another human being. On the face of it, Anthony Bourdain would seem to have had everything: good looks, enormous creative talent, wealth, an entire world to explore for his popular CNN travel show Parts Unknown. The final episodes of that program will begin airing on Sunday evening, with Kamau Bell as guest host. Bourdain was in the process of filming the season when he took his life.

I don’t know a lot about suicide. I suspect that suicide in the young often may be a matter of despair that peaks but can subside again, and that when the young person can be dissuaded, further attempts might be forestalled. I think suicide, assisted dying,  in the terminally ill is perfectly logical. I suspect that suicide in a person of Bourdain’s age is the culmination of a lot, and that following through on the impulse to end one’s life is considered and intentional and hard to reverse. There’s such a thing as suicidal attempts masked as a cry for help — the person tries, but in a way that he or she is likely to be discovered. I sense that Bourdain’s death wasn’t that. He wanted to die. He was surrounded by people in whom he might have confided his dark thoughts and who might have helped him hold off. That didn’t happen. He died.

I liked Bourdain’s show, his easy manner with a variety of people and the number of places he was willing to go and the sometimes bizarre culinary things he eagerly tried. He seemed like a person with a zest for life, and more chances to add richness to his days than many of us. He looked like he was having a wonderful time.

I’m probably not the only viewer who had fallen into the trap of thinking we knew him. I suspect that even with foreknowledge of his death, I’m going to watch right up until the last episode and see him as a man living at the peak of his game.

News from South Carolina

Phyllis and Art checked in from South Carolina on Saturday evening — they were without power during the day, but it came back on late Saturday afternoon. They have no flooding in their immediate neighborhood, and no more than the usual downed limbs and random debris to be cleaned up and put out to the curb. They were very lucky. Wilmington North Carolina, about an hour north, did not fare nearly as well.

I think all of us who are their friends are relieved. In any of these natural disasters, I think it’s amazing how much difference a few miles or a few feet of elevation can make.

Friendship is Reciprocal

Friendship has to be reciprocal, or it isn’t really friendship, is it?

On Friday morning the day dawned sort of gloomy, and I decided to go to our local cafe for breakfast on my way to work out — the place where Ben and Sara and I often eat on Saturday mornings. M. was my server, as usual. At the end of the meal she declined to bring me a check, saying she was treating me. After a moment’s pause I accepted with thanks, asking her with a smile why she was doing this. She said, “Many people have good hearts. You also let me know who you are.”

I thought it an interesting response.

M. is Salvadoran, here legally although her family’s protection ends in 2019 and they are likely to have to return to El Salvador. Her husband works for the city, a night job in which he is part of a crew that tries to keep homeless encampments relatively clean. That means picking up dirty needles, piles of feces, discarded food and other trash — a truckload full. He wears double gloves, hoping to prevent a needle stick. They have two little girls. M. also works for me here, cleaning my house. When she heard I was moving to Queen Anne, she asked about the cleaning job, saying her family needed to earn extra money. I gladly accepted her offer to work here. She often has lunch with me as she finishes up her tasks, and that’s how we’ve gotten to know each other. Over the course of many conversations, we’ve moved from employer-employee to friend.

I quite like being treated to breakfast, although I can well afford to pay my restaurant bills on my own. M. clearly shares my belieft that friendship is reciprocal — otherwise I’m an employer or benefactor, not a friend. There’s considerable dignity in that, just like my relationships with the Panamanians.

Did she sense I was there because I wasn’t looking forward to eating breakfast alone? I suspect so. That’s what I think she meant by “you let me know who you are”.

Hurricane Florence

Friends Phyllis and Art live right in the path of Hurricane Florence’s projected landfall. For now they are sheltering in place, being just far enough from the coast to avoid storm surge. But all of that area is lowland, filled with canals and ponds and freshwater creeks that are vulnerable to flooding. They are stocked up and ready. Neighbors have generators, should the area lose power.

With 1.5 million people being told to evacuate and the storm expected to affect a  huge geographical area, getting in the car and driving many miles to safety — especially with a large old dog — is no easy prospect.

Hard decision, this one. I’m going to be worried about them until Phyllis is able to let me know that the danger has passed.

Rachel Maddow and Bob Woodward

Rachel Maddow, host of her own talk show on MSNBC, is really brilliant. Her 20 minute interview with Bob Woodward about his new book Fear was a treat. She asks really thoughtful questions, ones without obvious answers. She pulls disparate threads out of the air to make a coherent and compelling argument. Bob Woodward is no slouch either, and together they were riveting. I could have listened much longer.

Trump hates the new book. His funniest response is to claim that he is going to write the real book. Trump can’t write a paragraph; he even makes spelling and grammatical mistakes in his tweets. Does he really have a degree from Wharton, undergrad, not the biz school? His father Fred must have written a big check. Trump can barely read material that others have written for him. He can riff for 90 minutes or more, an incoherent rant that his incoherent supporters love. But write a book? Not a chance. And I can’t imagine him trusting a ghostwriter, someone to help him with the task, after the guys who did it in the past are all on CNN saying what a damaged soul he is.

Serena’s Tennis Attire

Serena Williams is a big, imposing, physically strong woman who plays professional tennis. She is also a fashionista, most recently wearing a skin tight black body suit onto the court to play tennis at the French Open. Not so fast, said the pooh-bahs in charge of the U.S. Open. No bodysuits allowed. Ms. Williams would have to take the court wearing appropriate tennis attire.

Remember the Billie Jean King era, when “appropriate attire” meant demure little white skirts and modest white blouses with sleeves and collars? Even the great Billie Jean is chiding the officials at the U.S. Open, saying it’s long past time for officials to stop policing women’s bodies.

How did Serena respond? Rather than make a stink, she simply appeared on court in an abbreviated black body suit complete with a black tutu. 🙂 You’ll find a pic in the link below.

I doubt the tutu was what the U.S. Open officials had in mind.

Go, Serena! Great response. 🙂


RBG’s Other Role

A high school friend from the east coast is here visiting her grown son, daughter-in-law, and new grandbaby — visits Laurie and I both cherish. The documentary RBG is around Seattle, and Laurie shared with me that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was her camp counselor back in the day. Three years ago the bunk had a 70th birthday reunion, and RBG showed up — affirming that many of the values she’s held in adult life she learned at camp.

When I was growing up in Kearny, NJ, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, all the Jewish kids who were my friends went to camp — most of them for the whole summer. The culture of summer camp was a profound influence in their lives. I didn’t go, not even to day camp, although after my father died and my mother went back to work, my younger sister Wendy did. I don’t think I had any bonding experience that was similar until the Peace Corps.

Sara and Matt both went to camp. Matt attended Camp Stella Maris, in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York, quite near our home. He was a camper, counselor, and finally waterfront director. At least one of his best friends to this day came from that camp experience. Sara chose to go to a different camp every year, and finally to break out of the camp routine entirely to go on trips which she planned and arranged and convinced us to allow her to join. Her first one was a bike trip, supervised, from Amsterdam to Paris. As we all know about Sara, she logged that one into her experience bank and kept on going.

I Finally Know Who Ivanka Reminds Me Of

Eva Peron. Ivanka Trump reminds me of Eva Peron. Both are beautiful women, elegantly dressed. Both have a certain amount of native intelligence. Both are inseparable from the men who made them successful — by their own choice. Both are world class enablers. Both are filled with empty words that attempt to soften the cruelty of their male sponsors. Eva stood by the side of Juan Peron, a bull-necked thug who was nothing like the elegant Jonathan Pryce portrayal in the film version of Evita. Ivanka stands wordlessly at the side of her father, a florid, overweight old man with oddly colored hair but some sort of mystical appeal to angry and fearful white voters. Eva slept her way to Peron’s side. We assume Ivanka and Donald are not on those terms, although his relationship with both of his daughters is oddly sexualized. He might very well, he tells us, be dating Ivanka if she were not his daughter. He apparently asked a friend, when his daughter Tiffany was born, if the friend didn’t think the infant was “hot”. What kind of father says that?

Eva Peron enjoyed the adulation of the poor of Argentina — does to this day, even though she died in 1952. She was their Santa Evita. I don’t think Ivanka gets that kind of adulation from anyone. Perhaps it’s a different era; people are no longer quite so willing to accept the pre-packaged version of whatever Ivanka is trying to sell.  Eva Peron had a terrible death of cervical cancer at the age of 33. Perhaps Ivanka will fare better in life, although when Donald finally passes from the national scene I fervently hope she does too.

I’m all in with Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, who has this to say about Ivanka:

Her tenure in Washington has amounted to little more than an elaborate personal branding exercise, to burnish her modern-working-mom aura. But that image has gone the way of her soon-to-be-defunct line of shoes and dresses. In the case of both, no one is buying it anymore.”