Ageless

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The yoga mantra I picked randomly from the stack today said, “I am at peace with my age.”

Depending on what day you ask me, I might or might not agree with that sentiment. On this beautiful, sunny and unseasonably warm day, for instance, I’d say I feel young at heart. But yesterday, after a long weekend of rain and gloom, my aches and pains made me feel like an old lady.

In ancient cultures, old age was to be welcomed. Elders were revered and looked to for leadership, wisdom, and counsel. Like a tree trunk with many rings, the wrinkles on a face were a road map to greater knowledge and understanding.

Nowadays, there are whole industries dedicated to maintaining or recapturing our youthfulness. People go to great expense and even risk to look younger – erase the wrinkles, plump the cheeks and lips, contour the sagging body parts. Some of my favorite celebrities have succumbed to the allure of eternal youth. To me, though, their faces look strange and immobile, a mask hiding all the life experiences they have collected over the years.

In a chapter of Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he describes a photo shoot of naked friends and acquaintances that is done for his fledgling magazine. When he looks at the proofs, which show only bodies (the heads being cropped out for privacy’s sake), he’s a bit horrified by the imperfections and homeliness of himself and his friends. When we are young, we like to think of ourselves as beautiful specimens, strong and sexy, desirable and uncorrupted.

But bodies should be imperfect. They do such hard work for us every day. And faces should show our laugh lines. They should move when we speak, reflecting our emotions and thoughts.

Last night, my daughter and I watched the last episode of the new Veronica Mars season. Many members of the original cast populate the series, which makes it nostalgic and fun to watch. Towards the very end, the character Parker appears briefly. A college friend of Veronica’s and former girlfriend of Veronica’s boyfriend Logan, Parker looks as lovely as ever. The actress, Julie Gonzalo, has appeared in other hit shows such as the reboot of Dallas. She has always had a small crooked scar that runs between her eyebrows. I admire this. In her line of work, it would be tempting to have plastic surgery to eliminate this flaw. But the flaw makes her more real – and does not diminish her beauty at all.

So it is with the signs of aging. I guess we fear these signs because we fear the end. I don’t know about you, but I want to live forever (or at least to 100!) Aging and death are inevitable parts of the circle of life. But there are parts of ourselves that remain ageless: our hopes, our beliefs, our ideals, our love. These are the parts of myself that I want to focus on in the upcoming decades.

I am at peace with my age.

Driving Me Crazy

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I’m afflicted with road rage – well, maybe road annoyance. While driving, I don’t scream, turn red, and confront other drivers with my 45. But lately, I’ve found myself muttering “I hate people” as I navigate the streets of town. I mean at yoga I’m all “Namaste” and everything, but as soon as I get in the car to drive home, Mr. Hyde emerges.

There’s the guy running on a busy street when he has a perfectly good sidewalk he can use. There are the teenage kids prematurely crossing the street when I have the left turn arrow, forcing me to stop and miss my window of opportunity. And how about the crossing guard who thinks it’s his mission to hold up traffic until the kid halfway down the block makes it up to the crosswalk?

And that’s just the pedestrians!

Drivers have lots of annoying habits that just get to me. For instance, many people consider turn signals optional, my husband included. Suddenly they are veering left in front of me, and I have to slam on my brakes because I thought they were going straight. Cars sometimes whip out onto the street a few feet from my moving vehicle and then proceed to drive 10 mph in front of me. Why were you in such a hurry, buddy?

The other day I was driving on the highway and didn’t see a car in my blind spot as I went to make a lane change. I quickly swerved back into my lane (My bad!), but when the car passed me, the driver gave me the finger. Geez, mister, I wasn’t aiming for your car. It was an honest mistake.

In all seriousness, road rage is a modern problem that can be deadly. According to The Zebra, an online insurance reference, car accidents due to road rage increased from 80 in 2006 to 467 in 2015. Also, over a seven-year time period, more than 200 murders and 12,000 injuries were attributed to road rage. (“Road Rage Statistics,” thezebra.com, May 23, 2019)

Let’s face it. I will probably never completely rid myself of the need to say mean things about other drivers and pedestrians (And don’t get me started on bicyclists!) while behind the wheel of my car. Still, I will work to contain my “road resentment,” for the sake of myself and my unfortunate passengers.

Letting Go

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On this day of the autumnal equinox, we welcome the season of fall. There was a bit of a chill in the air during outdoor yoga this morning as our instructor encouraged us to draw energy from the Earth on which we posed – and at the same time, emulate the autumn trees shedding their leaves by letting go.

I’ve seen this metaphor quite a bit this year, and it’s a lovely image. The trees let go of their leaves, returning them to the earth where they rejuvenate the soil and nourish the very tree itself. Likewise, our minds and hearts can practice letting go of all that is dead in us: thoughts, prejudices, worries, anxieties, anger and fear.

What a graceful release it can be to let go. In child’s pose, we curl ourselves toward the ground. With every breath we surrender control of our bodies, and in doing so give them renewed energy and peace as we sink into Mother Earth.

It can be liberating to let go. So much of our lives is spent with clenched teeth and held breath. We worry about our children, our health, our finances, the weary world. But as Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

I once heard the mantra, “Let go and let God.” That simple advice has run through my head many times in days of stress and heartache. If you believe that there is a force greater than yourself, a force for good, you will be able to surrender to that force and stop trying to control everything around you.

I know. Easier said than done. Yet I’m confident that if we can let go of our burdens as the trees let go of their leaves this fall, we will be able to move forward with great joy.

Politics and the Power of Words

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During the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton described Trump supporters as “deplorables,” and from the moment she uttered that word, I knew it would become a missile in the hands of Republican strategists. Sure enough, Trump supporters started posting proud photos of themselves as so-called “deplorables.” Pundits decried the elitism of the Democratic nominee and used her own unfortunate choice of words to indict her as the ultimate Washington insider.

Similarly, early in the Trump Administration, Senator Mitch McConnell explained why he had shut down Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s objections to the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the Attorney General post: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Those final three words became a rallying cry for liberals and especially feminists against the predominantly white male presence in Washington and the resiliency of Warren and other women who speak out. T-shirts and hats started sporting the quip, and it took on a life of its own.

When it comes to politics, candidates, government officials, and strategists need to mind their words. Words are powerful and effective means of getting one’s point across. But words can also be used against us.

During the 2012 election, Pres. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan about “hope and change” became the source of mockery from vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. During a speech to Republican supporters, she mocked, “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out?”

More recently, Pres. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” (MAGA), has been endlessly parodied into such expressions as “Make America White Again” and “Make America Smart Again.”

As the presidential election of 2020 comes ever nearer, we will be hearing a lot (too much?) from candidates and their supporters. Pres. Trump is no doubt polishing off his dismissive nicknames in preparation for the face-off against his eventual Democratic challenger. Liberals, for their part, are blowing up their “Trump Baby” balloons and preparing to portray the Republican incumbent as idiotic and venal.

It will be interesting to see how language is used both to inspire and tear down in this next election. No doubt t-shirt makers are at the ready to capitalize on the words and slogans that go viral.

Pink pussy hats, anyone?

Savasana Among the Trees

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I have practiced yoga in nature before. Sunrise yoga on the beach was a wonderfully relaxing and fun part of a few past vacations. But today I got to practice my asanas under the trees.

My local arboretum holds outdoor yoga classes, so I decided to sign up. The morning was overcast and humid but not exceptionally hot. I found the location, a patio facing an expanse of grass ringed by trees, and put down my mat. Our instructor, Natalie, was young and sweet-voiced, and she encouraged us to take an affirmation card from a pile of them she’d provided. I selected one at random. It said, “Everything I touch becomes a success.” I smiled.

Natalie took us through the poses, all the while encouraging us and reminding us that it’s okay to fall, to not be perfect. The trees presided over our movements, and when I closed my eyes, I could hear the birds chirping. It was one of the most enjoyable yoga classes I’ve ever taken, and I have to believe it was due to the fact that we were communing with nature.

Every yoga class ends with savasana, or “corpse pose.” The complete and total surrender it entails makes savasana my favorite part of the hour. Afterwards, my mind, body, and soul felt rested, yet invigorated. I slowly gathered my things and started heading toward the parking lot.

On the way, I found a fragrance garden with a bubbling fountain. I sat on a bench and enjoyed the quiet gurgling of the fountain, the flowers and plants, and the emergence of sun from behind the clouds.

Like anyone else, I have my share of worries. My mother-in-law is undergoing a surgical procedure as I write this. My senior in high school is immersed in college applications and trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to become. My other children are living their lives in far flung cities across the U.S. But yoga among the trees has given me an inner peace that helps me know all will be well.

After all, everything I touch becomes a success.

Smoking Gun

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A handful of people have died from vaping, and President Trump immediately instituted a ban on certain flavored e-cigarettes. Three times that many people were killed in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and hand-wringing was the only action anyone took.

I’m not a fan of e-cigarettes, and I have no issue with regulating them more strictly in light of the mysterious recent deaths and the fact that vaping has caught on with a young, vulnerable population. Indeed, the government’s role is to provide regulations to help keep Americans safe. But when it comes to guns, there is a glaring inconsistency.

In the latest mass shooting, the gunman had obtained his weapon from a private sale, thus skirting a background check that would have marked him as ineligible to have a gun. There are numerous loopholes to our system of background checks that, if closed, could prevent violence.

There are also ways of getting around strict gun laws in one state; get a gun from a neighboring state. Once again, a nationally consistent set of laws governing the sale of guns would help keep them out of the hands of criminals and people with a violent history or history of mental illness.

Alas, I’m beating a dead horse here. The difference between the vaping crisis and the gun one is simple: money. E-cigarette manufacturers and vape shops simply don’t have the lobbying clout of the NRA.

What makes it even more frustrating to me is that in the case of vaping, I am in charge of whether or not I use a product that is increasingly being shown to have serious health risks. I can simply refuse to partake. But in the case of guns, lax laws could mean that in the course of going around minding my own business, I could still be shot and killed. Guns are a lethal weapon against which I expect the government to protect me.

There is not a single right enshrined in the Constitution that does not have some curbs attached to it. You can’t perpetrate violence in the name of your religion, for instance. Hate speech and inciting people to violence are not allowed. The right to bear arms must also be controlled in some fashion.

Ironically, President Trump cited his own 13-year-old son in his remarks about banning e-cigarettes. It’s laudable that he would want to protect his young son from danger. But don’t guns pose an even bigger risk to the son of the president? Secret Service protection notwithstanding, doesn’t Pres. Trump see that his child would be safer in a world with fewer guns in the wrong hands?

We’re not seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to guns. Unfortunately, there’s a raging forest fire, and no one is moving to extinguish it.

Our Own Worst Enemy

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There has been a rash of car thefts in my neighborhood lately. I’d be a bit more concerned about the safety of my area if I didn’t know that in almost every case, the stolen car had been left outside unlocked and with the keys inside. These car owners are practically inviting a car thief to help himself to their vehicles!

In so many ways, human beings are their own worst enemies. We willfully do things we know to be unhealthy or dangerous – to the point that the state has to pass laws protecting us from ourselves. Seatbelt laws and newer ones banning cell phone use and texting are evidence that we just don’t know what is good for us.

Another thing I see a lot of is people pumping gas with a cell phone to their ear. Have they not heard of static sparks igniting a fire. And speaking of igniting things, how can anyone in this day and age take up the habit of smoking? I truly feel for older adults who became hooked on nicotine before we knew the dangers inherent in smoking. Nowadays, though, when I see a teenager smoking, I just shake my head in wonder. Are their heads in the sand? Did they not see the diseased lungs during their D.A.R.E. lessons?

To top it off, vaping has become a craze among teens. Flavored substances make vaping attractive to kids, despite the fact that they are still getting hits of nicotine (and sometimes other substances). Recent illnesses and deaths due to vaping have made using the product even more scary. But do you think a photo of a teenaged kid on a ventilator due to a vaping-related illness will stop anyone from picking up a Juul? Fat chance.

What is it about human nature that makes us our own worst enemies? Is it our pleasure-seeking id that seeks only its own gratification? Do we have a sense that we’re immortal until it’s proven to use dramatically that we’re not?

I myself am not immune from the tendency to act against my own interests. Despite mounting evidence that sugar is a cause of many modern health problems, I can’t seem to quit the stuff. The problem is that if I eat a sugary, fatty donut, I don’t immediately keel over with a heart attack. Those smokers and vapers and gas-pumping cell phone users have performed those actions numerous times without dropping dead or setting themselves aflame.

I guess we’re our own worst enemies because danger seems abstract when it is not right in our faces. The chances of a thief selecting my car out of all the other cars in town to steal seems remote. Still, I won’t take any chances. I’ll choose to learn from the mistakes of others and lock it up tight.