Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

My birthday is coming up:  on Valentine's Day, I'll be 71.  Most of the time, I don't think much about my chronological age-- I know I don't look like I'm in my 70s, but even if I did, I see no reason to lie about how old I am, or try to hide it. However, this birthday has a special significance for me; and although I'm looking forward to a birthday dinner, along with cake and ice cream, there's something that keeps bothering me, no matter how I try to ignore it.

In September 1989, my mother (of blessed memory) lost her battle with cancer, at the age of 71. Truth be told, not many women on my mother's side of the family have escaped getting cancer-- as many of you know, I got my cancer diagnosis in late 2014 and had surgery in mid-December of that year. Thus far, three years later, I am still cancer-free, and I feel grateful that the doctors found it in time.  But that doesn't stop me from worrying about what could still happen, especially now that I'm approaching my 71st birthday.

I know it's not rational to worry-- I'm a former counselor, and I've been a motivational speaker for years, so I know all the right things to say when it's someone else who's worried. But I'm not as good at encouraging myself.  Believe me, I understand that worrying doesn't solve anything. And I really do try to think positive; I try to treat each day like a gift, and use it productively.  I've got all kinds of coping strategies when I find myself feeling afraid-- I have a busy schedule (I work full-time, plus I also do volunteer tutoring and mentoring); I have hobbies that I enjoy; and I have a husband who is not only my best friend but who also bakes amazing apple pies. It ain't such a bad life.

And yet... as I enter my 71st year, I can't help thinking about my mother.  I remember how vibrant and active and dynamic she was (her birthday was in February, like mine); and then, almost out of nowhere, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer; and not very long after that, she was gone.  I don't mean to be morbid or depressing.  It's just that it was all so unexpected, and even the best doctors could do nothing for her. My situation, on the other hand, has a much more hopeful prognosis (and thus far, a much better outcome). Despite a few relatively minor health problems, I'm doing okay, and I've got no logical reason to be concerned.  And yet... sometimes I am.    

People often tell me I seem like such a strong person; I'm known for being there when folks are counting on me.  But I'm ashamed to admit that when it comes to being a cancer survivor, I'm neither strong nor courageous. In fact, I worry more often than I should. Yes, I've learned how to hide it, and I never let it stop me.  But the fear of a recurrence is still a part of my life, even though I wish it weren't.  Since I don't have the ability to predict the future, maybe my 71st year on this planet will come and go uneventfully.  I certainly hope it does. But I'll probably still worry sometimes, even though I know that's no way to get ready for my birthday! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Setting the Right Example

On Martin Luther King Day, President Trump played golf. It's something he often does; by some accounts, he's already been on a golf course about sixty times since becoming president, far more times than President Obama was in his first year.  Of course, Republicans were outraged every time Mr. Obama played golf, yet strangely silent when Mr. Trump does the same thing. But that's to be expected:  each side loves to complain about the other, whether it's something relatively minor like supposedly playing golf too much, or something more substantial like a serious policy disagreement.

But my problem wasn't that Mr. Trump played golf again; it was that he ignored an opportunity. For the past several decades (since 1994), at the request of Dr. King's family, presidents and others have spent some time performing volunteer work, helping in their community. It was a non-partisan activity:  Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all did it.  Yet Mr. Trump chose not to.

No, I don't plan to spend yet another blog post expressing my dismay about what this president said or tweeted recently. I'm simply going to suggest that Mr. Trump seems unwilling (or uninterested) when it comes to performing acts of public service.  I find that disappointing.  Part of being president is the ceremonial aspect, the role model aspect.  But what he seems to be modeling is being self-centered. He evidently didn't feel it was important enough, or he didn't feel it was necessary, so he didn't do it. He played golf instead.

The problem is that Mr. Trump's behavior affects others, and people (especially kids) may imitate how he acts.  I worry about his young son, for example. What is Barron learning from watching his dad act in such an egotistical way? What lessons is he drawing from his father's vulgarities, his pettiness, his grudge-holding, and yes, his unwillingness to be charitable? Barron may be the beneficiary of wealth and privilege, but money is no substitute for having a father who sets a good example.

Like him or hate him, Barack Obama taught his children to be compassionate and to treat others with courtesy.  Are his kids perfect? Of course not, and neither were any of us at that age. But he and Michelle insisted upon performing community service and their kids were expected to participate.  The same was true for George and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, all of whom raised their children to think about others.  Perhaps you too do volunteer work; and perhaps, like me, you were apprenticed into volunteering by your parents. (We didn't have much money, but we could always help a worthy cause by giving our time. It's a valuable lesson for any kid to learn.) 

Whether or not you agree there should even be a King holiday (President Reagan did not, although eventually he accepted it), the fact remains that it's a great opportunity to reach out to those in need; in fact, almost any day is a good day to do that.  So, in the new year, my hope is that the president will take his obligation more seriously and make time to help those who are less fortunate-- it will not only benefit the country, but it will teach his young son a valuable lesson: money and power may come and go, but in the end, people will judge us by how we treat others.