Is Age Just A Number?

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The impervious feeling of youth is a delicious drunk of newness and firsts: first apartment, first true love, first heartbreak; the delight of garage sales and thrift shops, that furnish the backdrop upon which one begins to build a life, blissfully unaware of the baggage of childhood that follows them into independence and self-sufficiency. In my twenties, I surfed in the mornings with Bernie, napped in the afternoons and then waited cocktails at night to pay for a life style that was both joyous and fraught with uncertainty as well as longing and idealism. All that created its own kind of pain and regret. No one escapes the wrong turns, but instead we seem to spend our lifetime burrowing into the core of what ails us before we find the gifts within the inevitable ruin.

At twenty something, I swung my long, gangly legs over the precipice of the 1970’s, watching Viet Nam unwind. The grainy television images of so much human destruction were soon to be replaced by Nixon and the exposure of con and corruption that would define the word “sensational” for decades to come. And as twenty marched ahead into thirty, I realized one day how difficult it was to pay the rent, and repair the car and I had new empathy and understanding for my mother, who worked at a time when the cartoon character of a wolf chasing a nubile secretary around the desk wasn’t that far off the mark.

While the twenties, for many of us underscored a time of adventure and ideals, the thirties was of time of finding a comfortable position within the grip of unrelenting responsibility. Overtime at my work place became a way of life, a badge of proof that I was committed and in the game for the long haul. I bought my first “new” couch and read T.S. Eliot, Yeats and May Sarton for leisure. I wrote in dozens of spiral bound notebooks– an attempt to discover who I was and who I was becoming, and whether or not I had just put on the costume of adulthood without really checking out what I was wearing. Thirty gnawed the bones of idealism and free-spiritedness, replacing the hunger for those things with “want.” Want is a thorn in the foot of human condition, a lusting and longing for those things or people just out of our reach; a strange coming to grips with a shadow of greed, that if we are honest, dogs us until we wrestle it to the ground and learn to balance it with a generous heart.

When I turned 40, I had a realization that life was just a series of stories and somehow we were all connected by those stories. By then I was married, with a choice to remain childless, but with a passion for creating business and a raw and reckless spirit, still wild from my surfing days that allowed me to take the risks necessary to be an entrepreneur. And having a partner with which to play that out remains one of the great satisfactions of my journey. The time of work and creation was marked by this decade and the joke of “over the hill” was really more about the pinnacle of the hill and the overview provided from the vantage point of focus and determination.

Fifty saw the departure of my mother and though I felt beyond independent and accomplished when she left, her absence was piercing in a way I could not have anticipated. She lingers still, her hands seeming like they are mine, veined with age. I catch glimpses of her in the mirror, a face layered over my own as I brush my hair. Life is shorter than you think.

So in my sixties now, the question of age as a number and whether that means anything or not? It means everything. Age is a marker, the signs that dot the highway that tell you how far you have come. Age is a container for the experiences that push us forward and challenge us to unfold. Age is a reminder that physical strength lessens with the years and beauty fades. Whether or not we like it or want it, age is what pulls us to our knees while it knights us with the sword of humility and hard-won wisdom. What lies beyond? In my twenties, I could not sit still in the morning hours, knowing that the surf was up. Forty years later finds me on my deck, holding a cup of tea and easing into the day as I marvel at how the apples on the tree in my yard have gone from green to red and are becoming larger in the summer sun. The cycle of beginnings and endings are everywhere around me in nature. In my heart I let go of memories that are stitched with pain and discomfort. They drop like apples from the tree. I like to recall instead the touchstones of surfing and careers and a life education that was beyond divine. I revel in the partnership of a marriage, now tender and softened with grey.

I embrace the years, each decade a lamp unto the soul, lighting the way into becoming human. The striving for some sense of self-honesty and awareness, for a sensuous breeze in which to throw back my head and close my eyes as life takes me; this has made the journey purposeful. To paraphrase Mr. Yeats: “I am an old woman with a dry mouth, waiting for the rain.”

Those Crazy Making Tickets – A Short Tale

iStock_000022236717SmallApril Green was terribly disappointed to learn that life wasn’t always fair. She had done everything absolutely right—perfectly correct, in fact—and here she was standing in front of a judge who was sitting up high on his mahogany perch, peering down at her while she clutched her purse to her chest.

She was in court today because she had not paid a couple of parking tickets. Why such a big fuss? When the policeman pulled her over it was because she did not have current registration tags on her license plate. She had smiled and told him that they were in her glove box and she had just forgotten to put them on. Then she opened her glove box, and out spilled dozens of ignored or forgotten parking tickets onto the passenger side floor. April was surprised and laughed. “Why look at that,” she had said as her giggles became louder. The policeman did not share her sense of humor. It seems than in the sea of tickets were a few moving violations sandwiched in between the parking tickets, and that had led to her arrest. There were six moving violations to be exact, but April recalled few of them. Safe in the glove box of her car and out of sight, April never thought about the tickets until today.

As the judge admonished her for being irresponsible and reckless, April’s eyes wandered to the wall behind him.  On the Seal of the State emblem hanging behind the judge’s perch (was it hanging or was it glued, she wondered) she thought she saw a fly.  It was moving toward her and appeared to have a message for her. She could not hear what the judge said, but her eyes darted back to his when he told her she would have to pay the tickets. “Do you understand?” he was saying, “Do you understand?” April nodded her head politely though she could not help but smirk. It wasn’t an intentional smirk, just something she did when she was not quite sure of her self. “I do,” she said and then she stifled a laugh. She was standing in front of a judge, all by herself and saying, “I do.”

“Where’s the groom,” she grinned.

“What,” asked the judge, frowning. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” smiled April, “just where is the groom?”

Evidently the judge was not amused. “I do not want to see you back here, Ms. Green. “Do you understand?” And again April tried to swallow a laugh. She nodded her head, repeating the words “I do.” Quickly she looked at her feet while her shoulders shook ever so slightly. Why is it that when you try not to laugh it makes you laugh more, she wondered.

It wasn’t just that the ignored and un-paid tickets got her arrested; it was that the first ticket seemed so terribly wrong. She had only run into the shop for a moment to look at the small cat in the window and that had led to a conversation with the shop owner who told her about the cat and how it curled up in the window each day and greeted customers. April had spent an hour or so talking to the cat, while the shop owner kept asking her if she needed to get to work. Didn’t she have someplace she had to be, she asked April? “Isn’t that your car, dear “ the shop keeper had said, and April ran out of the store having not finished her conversation with the shop owner or  the cat–that was when she got the first parking ticket.

It  didn’t seem fair that her back was turned and she was admiring and cooing over the cat and truly understood what the cat was telling her. It wasn’t right. She ripped the parking ticket from the windshield wiper that held it in place and put it straight away into the glove box, slamming it as she did.

She couldn’t remember how  the other parking tickets, let alone the moving violations came about. It was just so hard to find parking places and it was so unfair that you had to pay for them when you were contributing to the community by shopping and establishing relationships with people and animals there. She had established a relationship with the woman who owned the cat in the window. She had established a relationship with the cat. Isn’t that what was important about community, she wondered. How could a judge accuse her of being reckless or irresponsible? She thought about telling him of the cat; thought that it might make a difference if he knew, but the judge seemed cranky, so she kept the story, her “reason” to herself.

April Green stopped at a little window inside the courthouse where they tallied up her tickets and her moving violations and she wrote a check. It was a large check. It was a check that she hoped would not hit the bank before she could ask her mother or her brother to please cover it. It was a check that she should really not have to write, she thought. Yes, life was unfair, and she signed the check sliding it across the counter to the clerk.

Driving back through the canyon she laughed to herself about standing in front of the judge and saying “I do.” Her shoulders began to shake, a little at first and then harder and suddenly she found herself pulled over by the side of the road and heaving great sobs. When the policeman stopped his car behind her with the red lights flashing, she cried even harder. She rolled down her window and handed him a tissue. She could not find her license and each time the policeman asked for license and registration, she handed him a tissue. She could not form the words to tell him why she was crying. In fact she wasn’t sure herself.

Today April Green lives in a small room of a large building, set back among a group of pine and birch. It’s quiet there. The state has taken away her driver’s license. She attends a beading class on Mondays and a weaving class on Thursdays. When she is not doing those things, she sits on a bench on a hill at the top of the garden where she can see the traffic going by and counts the cars wondering how many tickets, how many unclaimed stories, live in the glove box of each passing vehicle.

My Corporation Is A Person!

iStock_000012993634XSmallShe came to my creative writing class twice. After that, she went to a home for women like her; a place where hope against hope, she and her baby might have a chance. I met her in a jail where I taught creative writing each week. I doubt that she decided to get pregnant and then said to herself, “I think I’d like to be pregnant in jail and then have the baby in a lock down facility so that my child can know institutionalization from the first days of its life.” Jail is not a good place to be. Your neighbors are all meth or heroin addicts who don’t know how to live life without being immersed in self-disdain. And it’s certainly no place to have a baby.

But life is precious. Life is sacred, right? I agree with that. Still, the emotional, spiritual and financial cost of unwanted children does not paint much of a precious or sacred picture. If you believe that birth control is some form of abortion, then don’t take it. I believe that accessible, no cost birth control is more of a public health issue than it is a religious issue. The question of when life begins is a theological one, best left to personal religious convictions and not meant to be crammed down the throat of someone who does not think like you. It has no place in politics. I think about that young woman in jail, and I wonder if her life or her child’s life is any better than the day I met her in my class at Jefferson County. I know that her life is probably more complicated.

The mandate in the Affordable Care Act to cover birth control was a sliver of a universal care policy that women in other industrialized countries don’t even have to think about. It’s only the religious right here in America that pushes back on something that is good for women and good for the society. Planning the size of your family is a responsible thing to do, and a woman with health care insurance should be able to have that option rather than forgo birth control and pray that she doesn’t wind up with too many mouths to feed. For some families, the cost of birth control can and does make a difference in their day-to-day life. It can, as the saying goes, “take food off of the table.”

Why is it that we are so eager to talk about the religious freedom of denying birth control, but we cannot start a national dialogue about over population? Why is it that  while the Christian right is yelling and screaming about the sacredness of life, adoption laws remain complicated and impossible? And from a purely fiscal perspective, isn’t the cost of contraception less than the cost of unwanted children? Doesn’t the cost of unwanted children cause us to run an ongoing spiritual deficit?

My little business was set up as a corporation many years ago and my corporation pays taxes. The message that I keep getting is that my corporation has a strong political voice. Evidently it is a person, and though I have never taken my corporation to church, it has religious freedom and rights that cannot be denied. So this year, I want to include a letter with my tax return saying that war is against my moral and spiritual beliefs; war does not recognize the sanctity of life. Therefore, as a corporation with religious rights, I will not be paying taxes this year because it is against my religious beliefs to pay money that will be used to kill innocent civilians with drones or guns.

At the end of the day, corporations don’t actually reach into their pockets and pull out the check book for birth control, but rather have insurance policies that privately assist women who want birth control. In the long run, birth control costs are far less expensive than pregnancy costs, and far less than unwanted pregnancy costs. The creeping sense that dogs me is that this  horrible decision, made by men, is less about a corporation’s religious freedom and more about power over women, who the religious right, it seems, would like to keep barefoot, pregnant and in their place!  Don’t want big government in your business–how about this:  I don’t want big religion in mine!

Young men and women are going to have sex. That’s a given. That’s hormones. A public health care policy that mandates no-cost contraception for women is in the best interest of society as a whole. What’s really interesting about this extraction of no birth control from a health insurance policy is that Viagra and vasectomies are still part of health insurance plans. So, let me get this straight, if you are a man you can have a procedure that prevents you from impregnating a woman, but that is not considered contraception. And if you are a man, your almighty, all-powerful boner is going to be protected, because, after all, boys will be boys. Viva Viagra.

The Supreme Court decision of yesterday sucks for a myriad of reasons: corporations aren’t really people, so they don’t have the cognition to have “religious rights.” Secondly, birth control IS a public health care issue. We don’t want babies being born in jail, and we want men and women to responsibly plan their family size. Do we think it’s a good idea to have unwanted children growing up in a society that constantly cuts benefits to such children? The Christian right’s politics seem to be all about protecting the fetus but screwing the toddler.  I don’t want to give those little “takers” food stamps after all!  And finally, this Supreme Court decision underscores the fact that Christianity is a man’s religion that holds women as second-class citizens and chattel.

I believe in the constitution and the separation of church and state. The religious overlay of self-righteous Justices who place their personal beliefs before objectivity is what has made the Roberts court the worst Supreme Court ever. I cannot help but feel that we march toward our own Sharia type of Law with these bozos running the show. In the meantime, yesterday’s decision patted corporation’s on the back and told them “there, there,” and told women to go home, get pregnant and shut up. I still think that laws are supposed to be written and upheld for the good of the people and not the benefit of religion or corporations…but, oh I forgot, “corporations are people too.” I guess I will take my corporation to church this Sunday and together we can pray for our deliverance from a building theocracy that seeks to undermine our democracy.